Soccer Football - World Cup - Asian Qualifiers - Group B - Saudi Arabia v Australia - King Abdullah Sport City Stadium, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - March 29, 2022 Australia coach Graham Arnold REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
March 30, 2022
SYDNEY (Reuters) – The pressure on Australia coach Graham Arnold was not eased by the Socceroos, already out of the running for a direct ticket to Qatar, ending the third round of Asian World Cup qualifying with a whimper in a 1-0 loss to Saudi Arabia in Jeddah on Tuesday.
Australia’s bid to play in a fifth successive World Cup now rests on beating United Arab Emirates in Doha in June for the right to represent Asia in the intercontinental playoff against Peru, also in the Qatari capital.
The failure to qualify directly for the finals by finishing third in their group behind the Saudis and Japan is weighing heavily on Arnold, whose potential successor is already a matter of much conjecture in the local media.
Arnold led Australia to 11 straight wins early in the qualifiers but their record in their last seven matches in the campaign has been an unimpressive one win, three losses and three draws.
The 58-year-old former international striker suggested after the loss in front of 50,000 passionate Saudi fans that there was a lack of appreciation of just how tough it was to win matches against Asia’s elite.
“It’s disappointing we didn’t qualify directly, but look at the type of football culture they’ve built here in Saudi Arabia,” he told Channel 10.
“I think that a lot of Australians don’t respect them as a football nation.”
While sacking Arnold before the playoffs might be considered a gamble, the Socceroos are no strangers to coaching turmoil ahead of global football’s quadrennial showpiece.
German Holger Osieck was sacked after securing direct qualification to the 2014 World Cup, while his replacement Ange Postecoglou walked away from the job after Australia had secured a ticket to the 2018 finals via the playoffs.
Arnold has given every indication that he will battle on in the job, if given the opportunity.
“Now the boys have to go back to their clubs and they need to work hard,” he added.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, Editing by Peter Rutherford)