Socceroos and Olyroos head coach Graham Arnold says the improvement with his U-23s within a week has been ‘remarkable’, ahead of their opening game tonight. 

Despite a backlash from several A-League coaches, Arnold insists the preparation for these qualifiers is vital if the Olyroos are to make it to the 2020 Olympics. Australia is unseeded after qualifying for just five of the last 14 junior tournaments in Asia.

“87 per-cent of Socceroos went through an Olympic campaign,” Arnold said.

“Without one and without this generation getting at least 15-20 international games under their belt, they don’t play for the Socceroos.”

The Olyroos are only absent for two A-league match-days, due to FFA aligning themselves with the international break. 

Former Socceroos coach and technical analyst Ron Smith was sacked from his position at Perth Glory in November of 2007 after a bad run of games. He was missing six to seven players on Olyroos duty for more than five weeks. Branko Culina – in the same year – was also sacked from Sydney FC in very similar circumstances.

Fortunately for Smith, months later in January of 2008, Arnold called him to come and work with the Under 23s.

The Socceroos boss was the last man to guide an Australian Under 23s team to the Olympics where he did so back in 2008.

“I see this squad as being better, mainly because when I coached the Olympic team in 2007 there was no National Youth League.” Arnold said.

Arnold said the negative now is that the team has only had one game together, whereas for Beijing his Olyroos clocked up more than 20 games leading into their qualifiers.

FFA’s Head of National Team’s Luke Casserly told the Herald Sun that “this is the toughest financial year in the (four year) cycle.”

It’s also why the Socceroos are not playing any international games in this FIFA Window, a first since 2004.

The Olyroos open their campaign against Melbourne Victory’s marquee Keisuke Honda and his Cambodian U-23s, who ironically is plotting the downfall of Australia’s youth national team.

The match will be played on an artificial surface in stifling 37 degree conditions.

“We’ve been here for 7 days, we’ve used it to acclimatise. All the sport science shows you need at least 7 days to acclimatise to change in conditions,” Arnold said.

“The European boys have come from snow; Harry Souttar came from England and they might take a few extra days to acclimatise,

“That was the whole purpose to give these kids the biggest opportunity. These kids clearly want to play for their country.”

Australia U-23 v Cambodia U-23 (2020 AFC U-23 Championship Qualification – Group H)
Date: Friday, 22 March 2019
Venue: Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Kick-off: 8.00pm (local); 12.00am Saturday (AEDT)


Louise Taffa