Soccer-Arnold ‘blocks out the noise’ as Australia prepare for Saudis, playoffs

FILE PHOTO: Australia soccer coach Graham Arnold
FILE PHOTO: Football - World Cup - Asia Qualifiers - Group B - Australia v China - Khalifa Stadium, Doha, Qatar - September 2, 2021 Australia coach Graham Arnold REUTERS/Ibraheem Al Omari

March 28, 2022

(Reuters) – Australia coach Graham Arnold said on Monday he had blocked out media speculation about his future after a 2-0 defeat by Japan last week ended their hopes of directly qualifying for the World Cup finals in Qatar.

Two late goals from substitute Kaoru Mitoma in Sydney on Thursday secured one of the two automatic qualifying spots in Group B for Japan and assured Saudi Arabia of the other.

Australia’s path to the finals now lies through a playoff against the third-placed team in Group A — the United Arab Emirates, Iraq or Syria — followed by another against the fifth-ranked nation in South America qualifying.

Arnold said he was used to dealing with criticism.

“I block out the noise and focus on the players and try to help them fulfil their dreams … It’s about the players, not me,” Arnold told reporters ahead of Tuesday’s meeting with Saudi Arabia at King Abdullah Sports City.

“I know you guys have jobs to do but I don’t read what is written. My wife has been hurt by it (the speculation), but it’s part of the job. This is how it works at times.

“I’ve given my best and I’m giving my best to help these players… I’m focused on the game tomorrow. I had a tough week last week but part of it was my fault. Of course I want to be here or I wouldn’t.”

Arnold said the team’s situation was no different to that before Russia 2018 where they qualified via the playoffs.

“My expectation was to qualify directly … but it’s now about focusing on the game on Tuesday — I want the boys to show a reaction,” Arnold said. “All I wish and want is a full squad to choose from.”

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)