Australia’s Socceroos have been offered the toughest path to next year’s World Cup should they fail to gain automatic qualification from their Asian group, with a South American powerhouse awaiting them in a potential one-match playoff.
He’s guided Australia through a perfect 11 wins from as many World Cup qualifiers but Socceroos coach Graham Arnold cannot wait to return home.
Arnold hasn’t been in Australia since departing in May before the national team resumed their road to Qatar with four matches in June in Kuwait.
After those games, Arnold led the Olyroos at the 2022 Tokyo Olympics and kept the Socceroos’ perfect campaign going – playing “home” matches in Qatar against China and Oman as well as a hard-fought 1-0 win over Vietnam in Hanoi.
In between, the 58-year-old has stayed in the Middle East and the United Kingdom rather than face Australia’s strict quarantine regulations.
On the eve of Tuesday’s clash with Japan in Saitama, Arnold admits he is as hopeful as anyone the easing of restrictions in NSW will allow Australia’s November 11 qualifier against Saudi Arabia to be played on home soil.
“I’ve been away since early May and I haven’t seen my kids since and my grand kids,” Arnold said.
“With everything that was going on I had to try and change personally my own strategy to get through this for the boys, for the players and the staff.
“Everything’s crazy at the moment, it’s one step at a time.”
Arnold cited Australia’s travel schedule to Japan as indicative of the challenges of he’s faced coaching an international team during the COVID pandemic.
“There’s minimum flights, not only to Australia, but even here in Japan,” he said.
“We had to wait for a flight until 2.30 in the morning to fly out of Doha to get here to Tokyo because there was only one flight or two flights in the whole day.”
Arnold will return to the UK to be with wife Sarah after Tuesday’s match but said he expects the game against the Saudis to be played in Australia.
“I’ve been in charge now for 21 games, I’ve played 19 away from home,” he said.
“We’ve had one World Cup qualifier, out of 11, at home.
“It’s a privilege to coach the nation. It does get tiring at times but it’s what it is.”