Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has confirmed one key change for Australia’s crunch World Cup showdown with Tunisia but has indicated he will stick firm with the bulk of his team that suffered a heavy loss to France.
Australia needs at least a draw in tonight’s (kickoff 9pm AEDT) to keep alive their hopes of reaching the knockout stage for just the second time.
The Socceroos will be without right back Nathaniel Atkinson, who suffered an ankle knock in a tough outing against France superstar Kylian Mbappe in Australia’s opening 4-1 loss.
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Arnold confirmed Italy-based defender Fran Karacic would come into the side and that key midfielder Adjen Hrustic was in “good shape” and in the frame to return, but he’s reluctant to shake up his side too much.
“The boys have pulled up fantastically well … so I don’t think there’ll be too many changes. We’ve gotta put our strongest line up out there,” Arnold said.
One of Arnold’s selection headaches is whether to stick with Mitch Duke up front, or consider starting in-form Jamie Maclaren with Australia needing goals.
“I don’t want to give away the starting line-up,” Arnold said. “Jamie’s a great goalscorer, “Mitchell Duke works hard. We’ve got some choices to make. At the end of the day I think you’ll see both of them on the field at some stage.”
‘WE DON’T RESPECT ASIA’: ARNOLD SLAMS ‘RIDICULOUS’ FUNDING REALITY
Arnold, meanwhile, says some of the great results by Asian nations at the World Cup highlights the strength of football in the region — and a lack of understanding, and funding, in Australia.
Saudi Arabia and Japan produced the shocks of the tournament so far by beating Argentina and Germany respectively.
Asked about some of the surprise results at Friday’s press conference Arnold used it as a chance to vent his frustration at what he believes is a lack of understanding in Australia about the challenges of qualifying through the Asian confederation.
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“I think the World Cup is growing on people and there’s more talk about football now and the stadiums are getting fuller and fuller and we just saw Qatar against Senegal and as I said it’s really growing in momentum,” Arnold said.
“I think it’s not so much the shock results, it’s the quality of the Asian nations. Asia .. in Australia we don’t respect Asia and what their qualities are. We don’t respect Japan and Saudi Arabia when we played against them in the qualifiers, everyone thought they were pushovers.
“But the amount of money that you see that the Asian nations are putting into the development of the game and what the game needs, compared to Australia, it’s ridiculous.”
ROOS STAR READY FOR HOSTILE ATMOSPHERE
The Socceroos are bracing for a hostile atmosphere at Al Janoub Stadium, with Tunisia among the most heavily-supported teams in Qatar and as many as 30,000 of their fans expected to be in attendance.
Australia defender Aziz Behich, though, says the team will thrive in the atmosphere rather than be put off by it.
“Obviously you want to play in front of fans,” “Behich said. “We’ve been to places where I think a lot of teams would have struggled. We went to Honduras in a full stadium, we played against Peru in the playoffs where it was just Peru.
“… it’s exciting for myself personally. I’ve been lucky enough at club football to play in the hostile environments in Turkey and look, I’m really excited. We saw footage of their fans and that’s what you want. That’s what football’s all about.”
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Behich said Socceroos players had seen the footage from back home of the wild celebrations when Craig Goodwin scored a surprise opener against France — and he wants to create more magical moments tonight.
“It gives you goosebumps that you do that to the nation back home,” Behich said. “We’re going to go out all guns blazing and we want to, when that final whistle goes, see more footage of everyone at Fed Square going crazy again. That’s our main goal.’