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How Australia upset World Cup odds

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Australia’s coach Graham Arnold celebrates victory over Denmark

  • In the build-up to Qatar, expectations in Australia were rock-bottom and the days of Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill and Mark Viduka — the Socceroos from the 2006 run to the last 16 — were a distant memory.
  • Now coach Graham Arnold, who himself faced questions over his position in the build-up to the World Cup, has proclaimed the 2022 vintage could be a new “golden generation”.

Old-school values, a ban on
social media and some moments of quality have propelled Australia into the last
16 of the World Cup and a date with Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Saturday.

In the build-up to Qatar,
expectations at home were rock-bottom and the days of Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill
and Mark Viduka — the Socceroos from the 2006 run to the last 16 — were a
distant memory.

Now coach Graham Arnold, who
himself faced questions over his position in the build-up to the World Cup, has
proclaimed the 2022 vintage could be a new “golden generation”.

That is an optimistic view
because the Australia team thumped 4-1 by holders France before narrow wins
over Tunisia and Denmark does not have established players in top European
leagues and few stars are coming through.

But what this Socceroos side
does have is a strong sense of togetherness, a fighting spirit and a coach who
combines tactical nous with what some would consider old-fashioned values.

If there is one thing that the
59-year-old Arnold hates, it is social media.

“You look at underdogs
and they achieve something and they get a great result and then they’re
celebrating and they’re very emotional,” the straight-talking Arnold said
after Mathew Leckie scored the winner against Denmark on Wednesday.

“And again — I hate
saying this — they’re on social media until four or five in the morning
reading all these comments and pats on the back, all that stuff.

“I’ve been in the game
and been around long enough to know that the most important thing is recovery,
sleep and making sure that you do everything to be ready for the next
game.”

Arnold replied “wow”
when informed that England manager Gareth Southgate had promised he would
reward his players at the World Cup by allowing them to have a milkshake.

Asked if he would let his men
have a treat, Arnold held up a bottle of water, albeit with a smile.

He then trained his sights
back on social media, railing against “what it can do to players
mentally”.

“If they are reading
negative stuff then they don’t sleep well,” he said.

“So I always say to the
boys ‘have a laugh before you go to sleep, listen to popular music that you
like — that’s Australian music — and make yourself happy before you go to
sleep’.”

– Nervy start –

But to portray Arnold, or
“Arnie” as Leckie calls him, as some kind of dinosaur would be to do
him a disservice on the basis of his team’s achievements in Qatar.

He preaches hard work, fight
and “the right mentality”, but he also got his game plan spot-on
against a disappointing Denmark team that reached the semi-finals of the European
Championship last year.

Australia suffocated
Manchester United playmaker Christian Eriksen and ultimately won fairly
comfortably, thanks to Leckie’s fine finish.

It was a similar story against
Tunisia, a hard-fought 1-0 win coming thanks to a deft header by journeyman
centre-forward Mitchell Duke.

On both occasions a defence
marshalled by the impressive Stoke City centre-back Harry Souttar held firm,
and Australia have now won back-to-back World Cup games for the first time.

Arnold has been here before.
He was assistant to Guus Hiddink when the Dutchman led the Socceroos to the
knockouts 16 years ago, where they were edged out 1-0 by Italy with a
stoppage-time penalty.

In addition to facing the
brilliance of Messi, nerves could also be an issue against Argentina when the
Socceroos aim to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.

Arnold put Australia’s slow
start against Denmark down to nerves.

“As much as I try to
laugh around the place and keep them happy there were a few nerves because most
of these players haven’t been in this position before and it’s a new experience
for them,” he said.



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