It seems so long ago, but before the times of masks and social distancing, Australia took place in the 2019 Asia Cup, in front of packed Emirati stadiums and a world of pressure on their shoulders, being the holders of the competition from 2015.
It was here where the two-time A-League champion manager Graham Arnold knew he had a real task on his hands. A shaky start to the tournament losing to Jordan by a single goal, followed by a shock elimination in the quarter-finals at the hands of the UAE, meant that Australians were searching for answers on this mediocre run of form by their national team.
Despite Australia’s worst performance at the tournament since 2007, Graham Arnold’s key message was “I feel proud… it’s a start of a four-year journey”
It was at this moment, where a sense of change was felt among the Socceroos camp.
A revision of the aging squad with new and exciting additions such as Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Ajdin Hrustic, Stoke City’s towering defender Harry Souttar and Hibernian’s pacey forward Martin Boyle, meant that the green and gold had some new blood and a rejuvenated, attacking brand of football was about to be introduced.
The second phase of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers had come around in September that same year, and it was a fresh look for the Socceroos, with dominant possession play and various attacking options at disposal.
An incredible twenty-eight (28) goals later, ‘Arnie’s boys’ found themselves on top of the qualifying group, securing victories home and away against Kuwait, Nepal, Chinese Taipei and Jordan.
After clocking up 25,000 kilometres across the Middle East and Asia, Australia now found themselves in the business-end of the qualifying stages, off the back of eight consecutive triumphs.
Having only lost once in the second round of qualifying, China faced the Socceroos in high spirits and started strong in the opening 15 minutes. But a quick-fire double before the break from Awer Mabil and Martin Boyle, followed up by a Mitch Duke strike in the second half, meant that Australia got off to the ideal start, and ensured their ninth win on the bounce. Mabil stating “it’s a privilege to represent my country” after scoring his fifth in the green and gold, as things continued to tick like clockwork for Arnold’s men.
A Rhyan Grant header only days later against Vietnam, means that Australia now sit pretty up top of Group A on six points, having broken the record for most consecutive FIFA World Cup qualifying victories in a single campaign, for any Asian side.
The Socceroos have also become the only nation outside of Germany, Spain and Mexico, to defeat their opponents 10 successive times, in qualifying.
The appointments will resume in October with matches against Oman and Japan, with both teams already bagging three points to their name, respectively.
Despite being ranked 78th in the world, Oman managed to silence the Japanese on their home soil with a single goal, something that the Samurai Blue hadn’t experienced since March 2019. Nevertheless, Japan have bounced back by winning their second fixture and are only a win away from the Green and Gold.
With two tough matches on the horizon, followed by a meet-up with the stubborn Saudi Arabia and a rematch against the Chinese to close out a successful 2021, the Socceroos will only want more of the same on their road to Qatar, for a potential fifth successive FIFA World Cup outing.
It only makes sense if those dreams are fulfilled, with Arnold’s “four-year plan” announced on that night to forget in Al-Ain two and a half years ago; 2022 and beyond cannot come around quicker for the high-flying Socceroos.