Serbia, not Argentina, main focus for Arnold

Serbia and not Argentina will be the main focus of Graham Arnold’s planning in the next four weeks leading up the opening game of the 2008 Olympic Games to be played in Shanghai on August 7.

Serbia and not Argentina will be the main focus of Qantas Under 23 coach Graham Arnold-s planning in the next four weeks leading up the opening game of the 2008 Olympic Games to be played in Shanghai on August 7.

Faced with a daunting group, which includes Serbia, defending champions Argentina and the unpredictable Ivory Coast, Arnold is concentrating most of his efforts on getting a win in the first game against the Serbians, which put them in prime position to advance beyond the first round.

While all eyes have been on the squad named by Argentina, which includes names such as Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Aguero, Arnold will keep his main focus on the first game and its imperativeness to get an opening win.

“Our aim is Serbia and I will be concentrating so much on them, hopefully to get those three points and get off to a good start,” Arnold said, as they came into a mini-camp to prepare for the double-header (with the Matildas) against New Zealand on Saturday at North Sydney Oval (2pm kick-off).

“They finished runners-up in the EURO Championships for the U21-s, so they are a very, very good side. We will have our scouts out there right through the back half of July, making sure we know everything about them; that they haven-t changed too much.

“It-s a crucial game the first one; any tournament you go into, the first game is probably the most important because if you don-t lose that first game, you stay in it for the whole three games, so it-s crucial that we get a good result there.”

Arnold however did acknowledge it-s hard to go past the Argentina line-up and not be impressed; such is the highly rated talent in their team.

“If you look at the line-up of Argentina and look at the clubs they play for, it-s pretty daunting, but we are not going to hold any fear with them. In 2004 they won the gold medal and we gave them the toughest game in the 1-0 loss in Athens, so we-ll go out there and play our own game and lets hope that they underestimate the us and the conditions in China.”

One of the big talking points around these Olympic Games is the conditions the athletes will face in Beijing, although Australia-s opening two games will be played in Shanghai. While it will be hot, most countries fear the air quality in cities which boast populations in excess of 10 million people.

Arnold though is confident that the players selected have all been put through some rigouress testing that simulate these conditions they will face and with the three and a half weeks in China and Asia, he believes they will be right.

“Hopefully one of the things that this side has as an advantage, is that they have played in 42 degree temperatures in Qatar against Iraq; they have played a lot in the Middle East; they have played on artificial grass and snow in North Korea, so they have been through a hell of a lot in the last two years and they are reasonably battle-hardened,” he said when asked about adapting to the conditions in China.

“The fact we are going to spend three and a half weeks over there will give them that experience for sure. Like I said before we have done all the testing; asthma testing; heat testing; core heat testing; sweat testing; you name it we-ve done it to cover every base to make sure the players when the players when they do go there, we-ll give them the best opportunity to be successful.”

“Let-s put is this way, we are not expecting players to do things that they physically and humanly can-t do.”

The former national team coach also said that he will only regard the tournament successful one, if the team can win a medal.

“To be successful you always have to have goals and dreams,” he said. “Everyone knows we are in a hard group, but I don-t want to say that by just getting through the first round, it-s been successful.

“We have a Chairman (Mr. Frank Lowy OBE) who has achieved a lot of goals in his life and he wants that to rub off on the rest of us. He always sets us the highest goals that are possible and he is saying he wants a medal; I think we would all like a medal; so we have to go to the dream of and the goal of wanting to achieve a medal.

“So what-s successful? Let-s say a medal. If you go there for any other reason, you are going there just to make up the numbers. We want to try and push these players as far as we can to make sure they are ready for the biggest occasion of their lives.

“They-ve achieved, probably at this moment one of their goals in their life, by just being selected in the squad, but that-s not good enough; the selection is great, but the next thing is they must want to be a successful Olympian.”