When the Socceroos were knocked out of the World Cup by eventual champions Argentina, the journey of a lifetime came to the most abrupt ending imaginable.
There was no time for Graham Arnold and his players to sit back, nurse a beer and contemplate the magnitude of what they had just achieved as a group. Most of them had to pack their bags and fly back to their clubs the next morning.
Graham Arnold and the Socceroos will face Ecuador in a pair of friendlies later this month.Credit:Getty Images Europe
Nor was there any opportunity to show gratitude to the fans who flocked in huge numbers at ungodly hours to live sites throughout the country – particularly at Melbourne’s flare-tinted Federation Square, which became a recurring motif of Australia’s best World Cup campaign and actually fuelled them on their run to the round of 16.
Finally, though, a sense of closure, if that’s the word: the Socceroos are coming home, with a pair of friendlies against Ecuador later this month in Sydney (Friday, March 24) and Melbourne (Tuesday, March 28) providing the first opportunity supporters will have to show their appreciation for the team, and vice versa, in the flesh.
Arnold intends to name as close to the same 26-man squad that featured in Qatar as he can, save for the injured Ajdin Hrustic (ankle), Martin Boyle (knee) and Mathew Leckie (hamstring), who will miss out. But he is also mindful of balancing any celebration of past successes with their ambition of bettering them in the future.
With only nine months until a new World Cup campaign begins and just over 10 months until the next Asian Cup, there is precious little time for Arnold and the Socceroos to bask in former glories.
“We’ve got a long list of players that we’re already monitoring and scouting for the next campaign but, for these two games, I’m looking to bring back the boys that went to the World Cup,” he said.
“These two games are an opportunity for the boys just to actually feel the worth of what they did for the nation. I’ve been back in Australia for six or seven weeks, but people are still patting me on the back and telling you the experiences they had during the World Cup.
“Externally, the messaging is for the fans to come and celebrate what the boys did. But day one, when the boys come into camp, they will be told they’re getting the first chance to get on that clean sheet of paper of selection moving forward. It’ll be explained to them how the World Cup [qualification] campaign works with 48 teams, and also our main goals for the next three and a half years.
“It’s about achieving something more special. I said right at the start of my campaign in 2018, and I got laughed at, that we will be the greatest Socceroos team in history. Well, that’s going to be the main goal again.”
The presence of Ecuador, who are ranked No.46 in the world by FIFA and impressed at the World Cup despite failing to make it out of their group, will mean that the Socceroos can’t afford to treat this as a homecoming parade, even if it feels like one to everyone else.
The first match, on a Friday night at CommBank Stadium in Sydney, looms as a particularly momentous occasion: it is just the fifth time since 2011 (excluding the 2015 Asian Cup that Australia hosted) where the Socceroos will play a match on home soil on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Almost all other games are held on Tuesdays or Thursdays due to the structure of FIFA international windows.
That should help ensure a bumper crowd, while Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium will deliver the same sort of atmosphere on the following Tuesday, if the scenes at Federation Square late last year are any indication of interest levels.
Watch every match of the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA Europa Conference League on Stan Sport. All the action streaming ad-free, live and on demand, with select matches in 4K UHD.
Most Viewed in Sport
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article