Graham Arnold has the chance to do something truly special at the World Cup as a coach but the pain of missing out on a chance to play at the tournament clearly still burns 25 years to the day.
Arnold was part of the Socceroos team that drew 2-2 with Iran at the MCG in 1997 — after leading 2-0 — to miss out on qualification for the 1998 tournament.
He cut a shattered figure at end of a match that proved to be his last for Australia and it appears time hasn’t healed the wounds. Arnold wasn’t having it when a reporter in Doha asked about the infamous match and if he could “make the tears a turning point” by achieving success in Qatar.
“Thanks for ruining my day,” Arnold said, prompting sympathetic laughter from the packed press conference room.
“That was probably one of the worst moments of my football life. Thank you.”
Arnold featured in four unsuccesful qualifying campaigns as a player but he can hold his head high having played a key role in Australia’s run of five successive World Cup appearances — as an assistant under Guus Hiddink and Pim Verbeek before becoming head coach.
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Arnold, meanwhile, has revealed he will leave it until match day to decide on his final starting XI for Thursday morning’s (AEDT) crunch clash with Denmark.
Right back Nathaniel Atkinson missed the win over Tunisia with an ankle knock but could be in contention to return in place for Fran Karacic at right back while Arnold most also weigh-up whether midfielder star Ajdin Hrustic is fit to start having returned from injury off the bench in Australia’s last game.
They appear to be Arnold’s only selection headache with the coach earier this week suggesting there would be few changes.
“We’ll see how Nathaniel is this afternoon and Aiden – you saw that he came on in the last 15, 20 minutes (against Tunisia). So he is in consideration,” Arnold said.
“But it will probably be the first time in four years I won’t name the starting line up tonight because we need that extra bit of time to see how the boys pulled up after the game.”
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A draw against the 10th-ranked Danes will likely be enough for Australia to progress to the round of 16 but Arnold is keen on stability within the side.
“The more you change too much, the more confusion you put in the brain – and when people are confused, what do they do? The energy goes away and you make mistakes,” he said.
“We’ve been doing something for four-and-a-half years.
“The players know exactly what to do, and what my expectations are. I don’t think by changing the wheel in one day is going to do anything tactically great, but what it will be doing is putting confusion in players brains and once you do that then you’re not going to get the best out of them.”
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Arnold has promised Australia will be aggressive and go for the win despite knowing a draw might be enough, and his Danish counterpart Kasper Hjulmand reckons he’s telling the truth.
The Denmark coach fielded several questions about whether the Socceroos might effectively ‘park the bus’ and play conservatively. But Hjulmand can’t see it happening, especially because of a potential wildcard in Group D if Tunisia pull off a shock win over France.
“Australia knows that is also a dangerous attitude to a game because they don’t really know if they progress with a draw as well,” Hjulmand said on Tuesday.
“I think they will come out very strong and they will try to have periods where they will put pressure on us as well, I definitely expect them to also attack and run at us.
“Like all football games there will be times when we have to break down a very strong defensive unit, they have been very close in their organisation and that’s the toughest thing in football, to break down an organisation like that.
“I actually expect them to come out and it would be a surprise to me if that doesn’t happen, I expect them to run at us as well.”
After a draw with Tunisia and a 2-1 loss to France, only a win over Australia will be enough for the European side to progress but Hjulmand said that wouldn’t change their approach.
“Every time we walk across the line and start the game, it’s all about winning and that is the way we always go into a game so I don’t think it changes anything actually, he said
“We play a football match, It’s about winning and we will do our best to do that…it’s only the last 10 or 15 minutes really that could be a difference … but we will play the same way.”