Graham Arnold delays picking Australia team as tight schedule takes toll

Graham Arnold says he can see “in their faces” that his preferred World Cup starting lineup will be ready to go again against Argentina, but he will wait until match day to name it after having some “honest conversations” with players about their physical state.

The Socceroos are preparing for their biggest match in history on Saturday night (Sunday 6am AEDT) at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, where every member of the squad wants to play for a place in the quarter-finals. Arnold has kept faith in a largely unchanged XI in Qatar but faces the prospect of having to rotate his squad to cater for Fifa’s condensed schedule, which has drawn criticism from players and coaches under the physical strain of a three-day turnaround between the group stage and last 16.

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For only the second time in his tenure, he will wait until match day to name his team. “We need 24 hours,” Arnold said. “But I can see it in their faces, I can see it in their eyes. It’s something that I’m quite decent at – I can see it in their energy and their fatigue, and there is no fatigue. They don’t have any, they’re ready. This is a moment in their life that they’re all grabbing hold of.”

The Socceroos have been regulars at Aspetar, the internationally renowned sports science hospital next to their training base, Aspire Academy, for a full-body survey of their physical condition. The players also have access to doctors, sports scientists, physiotherapists and massage therapists around the clock, along with anti-gravity treadmills and altitude rooms.

“They have got everything there for us, you can ride a bike in the pool, you can do everything,” said Mat Leckie, who said he was “exhausted” after playing a starring role with a solo goal against Denmark.

“We’re very lucky to have that, it has been a massive advantage, especially given the intensity we play. We know as a team that we need to work harder and win our physical battles to get results. That has been the success for us, it’s massive to get our bodies right for the game.”

Arnold said he would partly rely on players’ honesty in telling coaching staff if they were not fit to start against Argentina. “It will be an honest conversation for myself and the players,” he said. “Because I know that every one of those players wants to start, but it’s not about them – it’s about the team and the nation.

“We’ve got great medical staff and I sit down pretty much always with the individual to see how he is personally and professionally, and if there is a player who feels he can’t start, he’s got to be honest and let us make those changes. And he may come on for the last half-hour, so instead of starting you can come on and finish it for us.”


Emma Kemp in Doha

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