Old-school values, a ban on social media and some moments of quality propelled Australia into the last 16 of the World Cup and a date with Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Saturday.
In the build-up to Qatar, expectations at home were rock bottom and the days of Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill and Mark Viduka – the Socceroos of 2006’s Last 16 – were a distant memory.
Now coach Graham Arnold, who himself faced questions about his position ahead of the World Cup, has proclaimed that the 2022 vintage could become a new “golden generation”.
That’s an optimistic view given that Australia beat holders France 4-1 ahead of narrow wins over Tunisia and Denmark have no established players in Europe’s top leagues and few stars are emerging.
But what this Socceroos team has is a strong sense of togetherness, fighting spirit and a coach who combines tactical skill with old-fashioned values.
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If there’s one thing Arnold, 59, hates, it’s social media.
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“They look at underdogs and they achieve something and they get a great result and then they celebrate and are very emotional,” said direct-speaking Arnold after Mathew Leckie scored the winner against Denmark on Wednesday.
“And again – I hate to say this – they’re on social media until four or five in the morning reading all these comments and pats on the back, all that stuff.
“I’ve been in the game long enough to know that the most important thing is rest, sleep and making sure you’re doing everything you can to be ready for the next game.”
Arnold replied “wow” when he learned England manager Gareth Southgate had promised he would reward his players at the World Cup by allowing them a milkshake.
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When asked if he would give his men a treat, Arnold held up a bottle of water, albeit with a smile.
He then refocused on social media, railing against “what it can do to players mentally.”
“If they read negative stuff, they don’t sleep well,” he said.
“That’s why I always say to guys, ‘Laugh before you go to sleep, listen to popular music you like – that’s Australian music – and make yourself happy before you go to sleep’.”
But portraying Arnold, or ‘Arnie’ as Leckie calls him, as some sort of dinosaur would be doing him a disservice given his team’s successes in Qatar.
He preaches hard work, struggle and “the right mentality”, but he also nailed his game plan against a disappointing Danish side who reached the semi-finals of last year’s European Championship.
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Australia smothered Manchester United playmaker Christian Eriksen and ultimately won fairly easily thanks to Leckie’s fine finish.
It was a similar story against Tunisia, where a hard-fought 1-0 win came thanks to a skillful header from centre-forward Mitchell Duke.
On both occasions the defense of impressive Stoke City centre-back Harry Souttar held up and Australia have now won two World Cup games in a row for the first time.
Arnold has been here before. He was Guus Hiddink’s assistant when the Dutchman guided the Socceroos to the knockout stages 16 years ago, where they were defeated 1-0 by an injury time penalty against Italy.
As well as Messi’s brilliance, nerves could also be an issue against Argentina as the Socceroos look to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
Arnold attributed Australia’s slow start against Denmark to nerves.
“As much as I try to laugh everywhere and keep them happy, there were some nerves because most of these players have never been in that position and it’s a new experience for them,” he said.