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How Australia upset World Cup odds

DOHA: Old-school values, a ban on social media and some moments of quality have propelled Australia into the last 16 of the World Cup and a date with Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Saturday.
In the build-up to Qatar, expectations at home were rock-bottom and the days of Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill and Mark Viduka — the Socceroos from the 2006 run to the last 16 — were a distant memory.
Now coach Graham Arnold, who himself faced questions over his position in the build-up to the World Cup, has proclaimed the 2022 vintage could be a new “golden generation”.
That is an optimistic view because the Australia team thumped 4-1 by holders France before narrow wins over Tunisia and Denmark does not have established players in top European leagues and few stars are coming through.
But what this Socceroos side does have is a strong sense of togetherness, a fighting spirit and a coach who combines tactical nous with what some would consider old-fashioned values.
If there is one thing that the 59-year-old Arnold hates, it is social media.
“You look at underdogs and they achieve something and they get a great result and then they’re celebrating and they’re very emotional,” the straight-talking Arnold said after Mathew Leckie scored the winner against Denmark on Wednesday.
“And again — I hate saying this — they’re on social media until four or five in the morning reading all these comments and pats on the back, all that stuff.
“I’ve been in the game and been around long enough to know that the most important thing is recovery, sleep and making sure that you do everything to be ready for the next game.”
Arnold replied “wow” when informed that England manager Gareth Southgate had promised he would reward his players at the World Cup by allowing them to have a milkshake.
Asked if he would let his men have a treat, Arnold held up a bottle of water, albeit with a smile.
He then trained his sights back on social media, railing against “what it can do to players mentally”.
“If they are reading negative stuff then they don’t sleep well,” he said.
“So I always say to the boys ‘have a laugh before you go to sleep, listen to popular music that you like – that’s Australian music – and make yourself happy before you go to sleep’.”

– Nervy start –

But to portray Arnold, or “Arnie” as Leckie calls him, as some kind of dinosaur would be to do him a disservice on the basis of his team’s achievements in Qatar.
He preaches hard work, fight and “the right mentality”, but he also got his game plan spot-on against a disappointing Denmark team that reached the semi-finals of the European Championship last year.
Australia suffocated Manchester United playmaker Christian Eriksen and ultimately won fairly comfortably, thanks to Leckie’s fine finish.
It was a similar story against Tunisia, a hard-fought 1-0 win coming thanks to a deft header by journeyman centre-forward Mitchell Duke.
On both occasions a defence marshalled by the impressive Stoke City centre-back Harry Souttar held firm, and Australia have now won back-to-back World Cup games for the first time.
Arnold has been here before. He was assistant to Guus Hiddink when the Dutchman led the Socceroos to the knockouts 16 years ago, where they were edged out 1-0 by Italy with a stoppage-time penalty.
In addition to facing the brilliance of Messi, nerves could also be an issue against Argentina when the Socceroos aim to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
Arnold put Australia’s slow start against Denmark down to nerves.
“As much as I try to laugh around the place and keep them happy there were a few nerves because most of these players haven’t been in this position before and it’s a new experience for them,” he said.


M M Alam

M. M. Alam is a Pakistan-based working journalist since 1981. Karachi University faculty gold medalist Alam began his career four decades ago by writing for Dawn, Pakistan’s highest circulating English daily. He has worked for region’s leading publications, global aviation periodicals including Rotors (of USA) and vetted New York Times as permanent employee of daily Express Tribune. Alam regularly covers international aviation and defense-related events including Salon Du Bourget (France), Farnborough (United Kingdom), Dubai (UAE). Alam has reported thousands of events and interviewed hundreds of people in Pakistan, UAE, EU, UK and USA. Being Francophone Alam also coordinates with a number of French publications.