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  • Writer's pictureCaydn Foley

The cyclical challenge facing Graham Arnold and the Socceroos

International football is undoubtedly a different beast from its club counterpart. Managers must consider the international game's cyclical nature and constantly revitalise their teams with up-and-coming players to keep their squad’s chances of improving alive. It can risk stagnating if they do not maintain freshness in the playing group. Socceroos boss Graham Arnold is already facing this challenge one game into another FIFA World Cup Qualifying cycle.

The Socceroos celebrate Harry Souttar's header against Bangladesh, the first of seven unanswered goals. (Football Australia/Aleksandar Jason)


In 2022, Australia achieved their best-ever performance at a World Cup, finishing 11th under Arnold’s guidance. Following the World Cup, Arnold had to come to terms with crucial Socceroos stalwarts Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic announcing their retirement from football, which the manager himself revealed he did not expect.


But with change comes the opportunity for growth, demonstrated in the 7-0 thrashing of Bangladesh at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on Thursday night. Despite losing Mooy, who historically provided the creative spark from Australia’s midfield, 24-year-old Connor Metcalfe seems a prime candidate to be the Mooy successor for the green and gold.

The Melbourne City youth product, who now plies his trade with St Pauli in Germany’s second division, is just one of the many younger players, at least regarding international experience, Arnold has integrated in an attempt to revitalise his squad.

Connor Metcalfe is solidifying his place as a key part of the Socceroos midfield. (Connor Metcalfe Instagram)


In the win over Bangladesh, Metcalfe was Australia’s leading creative force, demonstrated by his two assists and the five chances he created. Metcalfe spoke about the improvement in his attacking game post-match and how his European move has benefitted him as a player.


“I think the attacking side of my game has probably become a bit better, purely because I'm playing a different role at my club compared to what I was playing here at (Melbourne) City,” Metcalfe said.


“So I've had to adapt to that situation, and I think being able to play two or three different positions really benefits me and gives me much more opportunity to play.”

Another cause for optimism for Roos fans was Kusini Yengi's debut. He has become another example of a player improving leaps and bounds by moving abroad in the A-League Men off-season. Arnold is encouraged by Yengi's rise, as it presents another striking option, a position the Socceroos have historically struggled to maintain with a consistent starter.


“It was good (Yengi’s performance). It gives me something different. When I look at probably the last four or five years, I've had to heavily rely on Mitchell Duke because of a lack of big strikers coming through, but Kusini was very good when he came on. He could have scored, and as you can see by his physique, he can cause some havoc in the penalty box,” Arnold said.

 

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With several younger players coming through the national team's ranks, it’s still imperative to maintain a healthy balance with the experienced senior players, who can guide the likes of Metcalfe, Yengi, and someone like Alessandro Circati as they mature as footballers.


Jamie Maclaren, who scored a hat-trick off the bench in a man-of-the-match performance, is excited to contribute to a new World Cup cycle and is always ready to advise the next generation of Socceroos, as he shared post-match.


"It is special to have a group that's so determined to improve on last year's campaign and to be a part of it. If I can pass down any advice to the young guys, I will; it's an exciting period to be in for us older boys. There's those younger ones chipping at our heels, and it's a great family to be a part of.”

Next up for the Socceroos is another World Cup qualifier against Palestine, which will be played in Kuwait due to the current circumstances in the region. Palestine is currently ranked 96th in the world, so this game presents another opportunity where the Socceroos can show off their attacking attributes and flair, or as Arnold calls it, "backyard football."


On the road to the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the Socceroos will compete in the 2024 Asian Cup. They should aim to win Asia's most significant international tournament next year after their success at the 2022 World Cup and the promising signs very early into this new World Cup cycle. Furthermore, anything less than a semi-final appearance should be seen as a failure. Australia has been drawn alongside Uzbekistan, Syria, and India in Group B, which they should progress from as group winners.


At this moment in Australia’s football history, the nation should aim to consistently win the Asian Cup and reach at least the knockout stages of World Cups. Perhaps, and it would take some luck, this generation starting to integrate themselves into Arnold's squad can help pave the way towards reaching the unlikely but not impossible long-term objective of the country eventually winning its first-ever World Cup.


Click here to read more of FPF's coverage of the Socceroos!

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