It’s been 4538 days since the Socceroos last won a World Cup match; Brett Holman’s superb strike securing a bittersweet victory over Serbia at South Africa 2010 as Australia exited the tournament.
On paper at least, Saturday night’s clash with Tunisia in Qatar looms as a golden chance to end the drought. And if Graham Arnold’s side is to become just the second Australian team to reach the round of 16, it’s a non-negotiable.
The sense of the occasion is not lost on Arnold, whose trademark optimism remains intact despite Wednesday’s 4-1 lesson from heavyweights France — a match he’s now choosing to view as a warm-up for what’s to come.
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“Best friendly we could ever have – it’s a two-game tournament now,” Arnold said. “It was three games, but yes, we’ve got to win the next two, and there’s no better opposition to play against in a so-called friendly than France that’s going to punish you for every small mistake the way they did.
“It’s a great learning experience for a lot of those young boys out there. We had 11 debutants and that’s what it’s about, not only for this campaign, but for the next one as well.”
While the manner of the defeat has prompted criticism and debate about where Australian football is heading, there is truth in Arnold’s words in the respect of the Socceroos effectively having a clean slate to work with.
Few expected a young Australian side to bank any points against the reigning world champions but against Tunisia, everything is a stake – from the nation’s tournament hopes to Arnold’s legacy as national coach after a turbulent four-year tenure.
“I haven’t slept for a long time, wanting that (a World Cup victory) so much,” Arnold said.
“And it’s not for me, it’s for the nation. Only two wins in 17 games.
“You know, it’s nothing more than I want than to put a smile on Australian faces, it’s not about me at all, if it was about me I probably would have left ages ago. You know, it’s about helping the kids.”
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Tunisia, ranked 30th in the world, has long been pencilled in as the most winnable Group D fixture for the Socceroos in Qatar. But the North African’s side’s impressive draw with Denmark and the incredible support they are receiving in Doha – home to an estimated 40,000 Tunisians – has magnified the scale of the task at hand.
Arnold expects them to revert to a more attacking 4-3-3 formation after using a more defensive strategy against the Danes, and he;s indicated Australia will also be bold from the beginning and “fight fire with fire”.
The coach agreed with an earlier assessment from defender Milos Degenek that the clash at Al Janoub Stadium would be a battle of will, more than technical ability.
“The other night (against France) if there was anything that was shown up it was the technical side of it,” he said.
“Work rate, commitment, everything was fantastic. It was not the intention to drop back as far as we did but technically we turned the ball over, that pushed us back further. Overall we’ve got to be in their faces and get ready for that … we’ve got to be ready for that war.”
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They are aggressive and they’re going to have 40,000 fans behind them and it’s going to be a truly amazing experience again for everyone.”
Arnold said he was pondering possible changes for the clash and should be boosted by the availability of key attacking weapon Ajdin Hrustic (ankle), who is back in full training.
“It’s a short turnaround … it’s about the boys going into recovery,” he said.
“And it’s about the energy. When they’re training and seeing who can move around the pitch well and who’s feeling well. The choices are there.”