New-look Socceroos 'starting from scratch' as Arnold targets four wins from four in Kuwait
Australia's perfect start to FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™️ qualifying is ancient history, as far as Graham Arnold is concerned.
Instead the Socceroos boss prefers to focus on the now, with four games ahead between June 4-16 (AEST) that will be crucial to carrying on the work started by his side more than 18 months ago when the national team were forced off the journey to Qatar by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Australia touched down in Kuwait this week ahead of the remaining four Group B qualification fixtures which will decide which of the five teams travel directly into the third round of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) qualifying for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™️.
Read on or watch in the player above as Arnold discusses the journey ahead, the challenges posed by a first-up clash with Kuwait, the player who became 'a difference specimen' after a season in Europe and more in a revealing press conference leading into the crucial qualification run.
The Socceroos notched four wins from four games against Kuwait, Nepal, Chinese Taipei and Jordan between September and November 2019. It's been a long time between drinks for Arnold's side, who are now facing four games in a 12-day block beginning with a clash with Kuwait at Jaber Al-Hamad International Stadium on Friday, June 4 (kick-off 5.00am AEST).
A lot has changed in the Socceroos camp since November, 2019. There are fresh faces bringing new assets and energy to a squad led by Arnold, who says it's a new beginning for the men in Green and Gold.
"We’re starting from scratch," Arnold said.
"Yes we’re in a good position at the moment, but we’re not talking about the past, we’re only talking about the present and what’s now - and that is Kuwait.
"We’ve got a four-game tournament in 12 days that we have to play, and I expect to win every game and to be on top of that group after those four games.
"As I said, those four games are in the past, they were a long time ago, it’s all about now and the future and the journey that goes ahead in front of us.
"I truly believe (in) simple messaging and a simple game plan.
"What we did in the past is what we did in the past, but to get players together for only a couple of days then I need to be looking at what they’re doing at their club, what style they’re playing at their club, as an individual what positions they’re playing at the club... (so) when I put the team on the field they’re very, very comfortable to play a team system overall."
Australia's first opponents, Kuwait, sit second on the Group B table with 10 points accrued from five games, two points behind the Socceroos in first who have a perfect record from four games.
The two nations last met in September, 2019, when a Mathew Leckie brace helped Australia notch a 3-0 win on the road.
"In a lot of ways, fortunately for us we’ve been able to analyse what (Kuwait) are doing because they’ve probably played a good ten games during COVID, where we haven’t played any," Arnold said.
"We know exactly what they’ve got, what style they play, how they play, but for me I’ve always been a coach that 75 to 80% is focus on ourselves and what we can control.
"So we’ll go out and nullify their strengths and expose their weaknesses, and as I said I expect a great performance and three points."
With the likes of Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic absent from the Socceroos squad, there's an opportunity for many players to make their mark in midfield in Australia's four upcoming qualifiers.
Riley McGree, Denis Genreau, Ajdin Hrustic and Kenny Dougall have all caught Arnold's eye after solid individual seasons at club level, while defensive giant Harry Souttar seems to have only gotten bigger and better since the Socceroos coach last cast an eye on the Stoke City centre back.
Dougall arrives in camp after scoring a brace at Wembley Stadium to guide Blackpool into the English Championship through the League One Play-Off Final. Arnold says his selected players have all benefited immensely from regular game time at club level leading into the Socceroos' qualifying run.
"Kenny (Dougall) hasn’t arrived yet, but I tell you when he does arrive there’ll be as standing ovation from everybody in the meals room," said Arnold.
"It’s a wonderful feat that Kenny has achieved - and Australian scoring two goals at Wembley is just incredible, and two great finishes as well.
"He’s really put himself in the picture to make a debut for the Socceroos."
Arnold continued: "Ajdin (Hrustic) has come in from my view a completely different player to last time we saw him when he was in Holland. He’s at a great club in Germany, he’s doing exceptionally well but we’ve got some great depth in those positions.
"Riley McGree is here as well and Jackson Irvine, we’ve got players who can play in those roles and the best part about it is we can be flexible with our tactics and team structure.
Riley McGree is a different specimen now as a footballer.
His body has changed - and Harry Souttar’s. Souttar this year has played 46 games. How do you get better at your trade? 46 games.
"Riley McGree as I said is a completely different footballer today than when he left Adelaide, and that’s down to the amount of games he’s played in the Championship and playing 10 months of the year, not six months.
"For me, it’s all about match minutes and being able to play the game longer.
"Even Denis Genreau. We talk about Denis Genreau, well last year at Melbourne City he hardly played, and look at the difference this year when he does play at Macarthur."
Following the Socceroos' bout with Kuwait are three fixtures against Chinese Taipei (June 8 AEST), Nepal (June 12 AEST) and Jordan (June 16 AEST). Topping Group B would ensure Australia progress to the 12-country third round, with the top two sides of each group of six advancing to the FIFA World Cup while the two third-place nations play out an Asian and intercontinental play-off.
The stakes are high - as they should be on the international stage. But looking past the importance of getting results in the four upcoming qualifiers, Arnold is able to appreciate the enormity of the Socceroos and Westfield Matildas simply returning to action in recent times.
"It’s massive," he said.
"It gives a pathway and gives dreams to every young footballer in the country, what they want to aspire to be and where they aspire to go.
"The Socceroos and the Matildas are the elite level of where player’s dreams want to be.
"It’s a massive thing. We sit and we can talk about how difficult it’s been for us over the last 18 months, where we’ve missed the Socceroos and the games. Well, when you talk to the boys that are here, they’ve missed it believe it or not even more than us, and more than the fans because it’s such a special thing to play for your country.
"Next year is our 100th year as a brand of the Socceroos and we’ve had 606 caps, so that’s an average of six every year. That’s something massive for these boys, and they just can’t wait to get on the pitch and show Australia how proud they are to be part of Australia."
Australia v Kuwait
Thursday, 3 June 2021 (4 June AEST)
Venue: Jaber Al-Hamad International Stadium
Kick-off: 10.00pm local, 5:00am AEST (Friday morning)
Watch on Fox Sports, Kayo Sports, ABC TV, and My Football Live App.
Australia v Chinese Taipei
Monday, 7 June 2021 (8 June AEST)
Venue: Jaber Al-Hamad International Stadium
Kick-off: 10.00pm local, 5.00am AEST (Tuesday morning)
Watch on Fox Sports, Kayo Sports, SBS Television, and My Football Live App.