Despite the Socceroos' 1-0 loss to South Korea in Busan last Friday night, coach Graham Arnold is in a good place. In fact, he's in the best place he has been since taking up the national job after the failure of the last World Cup.
What excites him now, he says, is the depth of talent at his disposal – the number of players he has picked, watched, analysed and scrutinised whom, he believes, can do a job at senior level if called upon.
Socceroos boss Graham Arnold.Credit:AP
"I feel better than I have ever felt in this job. I do believe I have got 40 players who can step up," he says.
"The hardest thing about coaching at international level is about working with people you trust. When you don't know the people, to send them on the field to do a job, it can make you anxious.
"I did the Olympic team, I have now had 40 players in camp with the Socceroos, I believe we have 40 players who are ready. I feel in a great position. The biggest problem for me now is fitting that 40 into 23 [for the World Cup]."
Arnold says he was determined not to be in the same situation as he was in the Asian Cup earlier this year, when injuries left him short.
"Working with all those players, I know we have got the quality, we have got the talent. I am excited because it's now game on. We have got the World Cup qualifiers in front of us and the players have bought into what I want them to buy into."
Preparation for the senior team and the Olympic side – still looking to qualify for Tokyo 2020 – will be crucial.
"In all the FIFA windows we have games and preparation for the Olyroos. For the tournament in January in Thailand and the Olympics in 2020. It's about getting those boys at that crucial age of 20s and 23s to get them preparation and games so they will step up to the next level.
"I saw enough in Cambodia against South Korea [in a round of Olympic qualifiers] where we destroyed them for 60 minutes but then they ran out of legs.
"A crucial element is where those kids are going to play in the A-League. Playing they will develop and when they develop they come into Socceroo reckoning."
He says he needs depth to build tension in the squad and remove complacency.
"The depth is there. One of my key components when I took the job was creating depth. I felt, watching the World Cup, that Bert van Marwijk [who replaced Ange Postecoglou on a temporary basis] only had faith in 12 players. We need more than 12 players to go through a World Cup campaign and to create competition for places and remove complacency."
"We need more than 12 players to go through a World Cup campaign and to create competition for places and remove complacency, because those same players were relied on all the time. And I do believe now we have that."
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