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Opinion

Is Graham Arnold’s call for a Covid exception for Socceroos crowds the right idea?

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12th October, 2021
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Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has called on the federal government to help Football Australia get fans back into stadiums ahead of Australia’s next round of World Cup qualifiers.

The Socceroos suffered a nail-biting 2-1 loss to Japan in front of around 15,000 fans at Saitama Stadium on Tuesday night, marking Australia’s first defeat since June 2019.

Arnold was satisfied with his team’s performance but said he hopes government authorities can help Football Australia bring spectators back through the gates when the Socceroos face Saudi Arabia at CommBank Stadium in Parramatta on November 11.

“I think what’s important is – you saw tonight – that we get home fans there and the government helps us get fans there,” Arnold told Channel Ten reporter Scott McIntyre.

“It’s a big plus when you have your own fans behind you. There’s 15,000 here tonight making good noise and I do believe that gave Japan a lot of energy.”

The Socceroos haven’t played in front of a home crowd since more than 18,500 fans turned out at Canberra Stadium to watch a routine 5-0 win over Nepal back in October 2019.

They’ve since embarked on a record-breaking 11-game win streak secured largely behind closed doors in neutral venues in the Middle East.

With COVID lockdowns starting to ease and the Matildas set to face Brazil in two friendlies in Parramatta later this month, there’s growing optimism the Socceroos could once again run out in front of home supporters in just under a month.

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And with Football Australia having signed a lucrative deal with Destination NSW to play a selected number of international fixtures within the state, there are hopes next month’s clash with Saudi Arabia will draw some sort of a crowd to the same venue.

The Socceroos have struggled to accommodate Australia’s strict quarantine laws since World Cup qualifying resumed in June.

Goalkeeper Mitch Langerak announced his retirement from international football in May, while new skipper Mat Leckie has withdrawn from the team indefinitely having only just relocated his family from Berlin to Melbourne.

With talks with authorities ongoing, next month’s pivotal fixture against the Saudis might finally be the silver lining on the horizon for Football Australia.

“I’m just saying I’d love the government to help us with that and help the organisation get a good number of fans in at (CommBank) Stadium to support us,” Arnold said.

“I think when there’s crowds, obviously it gives the home team a lot of energy.”

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Mitchell Duke (15) is congratulated after scoring

How valuable are live crowds for the Socceroos? (Photo by Simon Holmes/Getty Images)

The Socceroos coach was philosophical in defeat after watching his side crash to a late 2-1 loss in Saitama courtesy of an 85th-minute Aziz Behich own goal.

“The positives were we played some great football,” Arnold said after the match.

“We played some really good, intelligent football. At the end of the day, it just wasn’t meant to be.”

It was an unhappy night for 45-cap veteran Behich, who was also at fault for Japan’s opener after failing to clear Takumi Minamino’s deflected cross to goal scorer Ao Tanaka.

But despite his team being on the back foot for most of the match, a positive-thinking Arnold saw no reason to despair.

“It’s one game at a time and we’re on nine points in four games,” he said.

“We’ve played all our games away from home and we move forward from here.”

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