Pressure builds on Graham Arnold as Socceroos slump to Saudi Arabia defeat

  • Boyle’s first-half goal disallowed on marginal offside call
  • Al-Dawsari’s second-half penalty gives Saudis 1-0 win

In the end, it really should have surprised no one that Graham Arnold constructed his own reality in the build-up to the Socceroos 1-0 loss to Saudi Arabia. “I’ve been around the national team now for 40 years and I’ve never known a game to be a dead rubber,” he declared. “It’s more about going out against this team that’s qualified for a World Cup and showing our worth, and giving an opportunity for these players to step up and for them to push for a position in the playoff squad.”

Yet despite any contortions in logic to argue otherwise, a dead rubber is exactly what this match was. A 2-0 defeat against Japan the previous week meant that, no matter the result in Jeddah, the Socceroos knew the fate of their qualification campaign now lay in the playoff path. Meanwhile, the Green Falcons were safe in the knowledge that their ticket to Qatar 2022 – as symbolised by the large jumbo jet tifo erected in the stands – was already punched.

And while the Socceroos had their moments – able to play as the reactive team to fashion threatening chances in transition, including an incredibly tight offside call that disallowed a Martin Boyle goal – Salem Al-Dawsari’s 65th-minute penalty ensured that it would be the hosts who took a comfortable win and first place in Group B. Australia has now won just one of their last seven World Cup qualifiers; a tailspin in form that both probably should have been seen coming and will now force them to secure a fifth-straight World Cup apparence the hard way.

Ostensibly, dead rubbers such as Wednesday remove the risks associated with what would otherwise be a competitive fixture. They are an opportunity, as Arnold said, to blood younger or more inexperienced talent against a higher quality opposition, experiment with new tactics and strategies, or, perhaps, salvage some kind of pride for when a collective campaign is consigned to the annals of history.

And Arnold, good as his word, demonstrated the first quality in both his starting XI on Wednesday and the in-game substitutions that were made. 22-year-old Hearts defender Nathaniel Atkinson was handed an international debut at right back, 23-year-old Gianni Stensness started his second international cap at centre back after previously starting as a six against Japan, 22-year-old Denis Genreau, after mystifyingly failing to see a single minute in the third-phase of AFC World Cup qualification, lined up in the Australian midfield. 24-year-old striker Nicholas D’Agostino and 20-year-old attacker Marco Tilio were also introduced as second-half substitutes.

With the likes of Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy, Jackson Irvine, and more all likely to be available, if this youth brigade will see any kind of scope in a coming playoff against the United Arab Emirates and, if the Australia triumphs in that, a do-or-die clash with either Peru, Chile, or Colombia is unknown, but they likely will, or should, represent part of the core of the national team as it begins to prepare for the 2026 World Cup cycle (as low stakes as that now will be with the tournament extended to 48 teams).

Of course, in the high-stakes world of international football, the future is never guaranteed. If one was to put much stock in speculative reports and innuendo back in Australia, Wednesday’s game was not only a dead rubber in a qualification capacity, but also for Arnold’s own tenure as Socceroos boss; the axe supposedly set to fall on the 58-year-old’s second tenure as national team boss regardless of the result in the Gulf.

In the fine tradition of coaches under the cosh, Arnold had played down the speculation in the lead into the game and, with the post-game press conferences only open to those at the ground, was spared questioning by a local press pack that has grabbed its brushes and begun to place the writing on the wall of his tenure. Nonetheless, in the wake of the defeat, the eyes of Australian football will now inevitably turn to Football Australia in coming days, speculating on the moment if/when black smoke will emerge from the federation’s metaphorical chimney at its Barangaroo office.


Joey Lynch

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Saudi Arabia hold Socceroos goalless in soggy World Cup qualifying stalemate
Australia’s long-awaited homecoming threw up more questions than answers ahead of Tuesday’s tie with China

Emma Kemp at CommBank Stadium

11, Nov, 2021 @11:38 AM

Article image
Socceroos 0-0 Saudi Arabia: World Cup 2022 qualifier – as it happened
Minute-by-minute report: The Socceroos’ long-awaited homecoming ended in a goalless draw in difficult conditions in western Sydney

Mike Hytner

11, Nov, 2021 @11:28 AM

Article image
History on Socceroos’ side but high-flying Saudi Arabia aim for change in narrative | John Duerden
Despite missing some key players, the Green Falcons are confident ahead of the crucial World Cup qualifier in Sydney

John Duerden

09, Nov, 2021 @11:06 PM

Article image
Saudi Arabia 1-0 Australia: World Cup 2022 qualifier – as it happened
An unfamiliar Socceroos team was unable to finish their group campaign on a winning note as Salem Al-Dawsari’s penalty proved the difference in Jeddah

Emma Kemp

29, Mar, 2022 @8:36 PM

Article image
Socceroos meet China with little remaining room for error in World Cup qualifying | Emma Kemp
Australia are three points off group leaders Saudi Arabia and just one point ahead of Japan in their bid to reach Qatar

Emma Kemp

15, Nov, 2021 @8:48 PM

Article image
Tomi Juric brace helps Socceroos past Saudi Arabia in World Cup qualifier
A brace to Tomi Juric and a scintillating winner from Tom Rogic helped the Socceroos to a 3-2 World Cup qualifier win over Saudi Arabia in Adelaide

Jonathan Howcroft

08, Jun, 2017 @12:27 PM

Article image
Time to ditch Socceroos preconceptions after Graham Arnold nails Peru match | Emma Kemp
Australia are off to the World Cup. Now we must ask ourselves what we expect when they are in Qatar

Emma Kemp

15, Jun, 2022 @7:37 AM

Article image
‘Home advantage is a big thing’: Socceroos challenge Saudi Arabia | Emma Kemp
It has been 763 days since Australia’s last home game, and this one could make or break their World Cup qualifying campaign

Emma Kemp

10, Nov, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
Graham Arnold avoids axe as Football Australia gives backing to Socceroos coach
Football Australia has given its backing to the under-fire Socceroos coach, who will remain in charge until the end of the 2022 World Cup qualification campaign

Mike Hytner

30, Mar, 2022 @11:05 PM

Article image
Attacking momentum builds as Graham Arnold forges clear identity for Socceroos | Stephen Ganavas
This Asian Cup campaign has taught Australia’s players how their coach wants them to play

Stephen Ganavas in Abu Dhabi

21, Jan, 2019 @1:00 AM