Graham Arnold.
Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has some tough calls to make when selecting his Asian Cup squad. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS
  • soccer

Arnold’s mind on Olympics when naming Asian Cup squad

Jasper Bruce December 6, 2023

Australia is poised to select a mature squad for January’s Asian Cup in Qatar with one eye on keeping younger players available for the Olyroos’ Paris qualifiers.

As Football Australia announced Western Sydney’s CommBank Stadium will host the Socceroos’ next World Cup qualifier, against Lebanon on March 21, coach Graham Arnold had his eyes firmly fixed on January.

Arnold will name his 23-man Asian Cup squad later this month, ahead of the Socceroos’ first group-stage game against India on January 13.

Australia will aim for a better result than their 2019 quarter-final exit despite Brandon Borrello and Ryan Strain missing through injury and Riley McGree racing the clock to be fit.

Graham Arnold and the Socceroos coaching staff.
 Graham Arnold and his Socceroos coaching staff stand in preparation for the national anthem. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS 

But as the Socceroos chase a second title, Arnold is having to consider the Olyroos who can secure qualification for the 2024 Olympics at April’s U23 Asian Cup.

Finish any worse than fourth at that tournament and the Olyroos will miss out on Paris, with a top-three finish guaranteeing their berth.

While clubs are required to release players for Asian Cup duty as the tournament falls in a FIFA international window, they have no such obligation for the Olympic qualifiers.

That has left Arnold fearing if he picks young guns such as Garang Kuol, Nestory Irankunda and Nectar Triantis for the Asian Cup, clubs may be reluctant to release them to the Olyroos so soon after.

“I do have one eye on the Olympics for this,” Arnold said.

“It’s very important that (Olyroos coach) Tony Vidmar gets his best team ready for the Olympics. It’s been shown over the years how important the Olympic program is for the Socceroos.

“I’m working very closely with Tony Vidmar that we get everything right in terms of player selection for both.”

Nestory Irankunda.
 Nestory Irankunda (13) warms up before the Socceroos’ international friendly against Ecuador. Image by Steven Markham/AAP PHOTOS 

Arnold lamented the timing of the Asian Cup, which was scheduled for June 2023 but was pushed back when China relinquished hosting rights through COVID-19 concerns.

The tournament now falls squarely in the middle of the European leagues’ schedule.

“Yes, it suits the Middle East nations but I can imagine (Japan’s coach Hajime) Moriyasu in Japan and Jurgen Klinsmann at South Korea are probably having the same issues we’re having with clubs at the moment because all of our boys are playing in Europe,” Arnold said.

“A lot of our boys, if they do come for the Asia Cup, they can miss eight club games so it’s quite a period there.”

Arnold is unlikely to pull many selection surprises, eager to reward players who have impressed him this year.

“The time of giving chances is pretty much over. That’s what the last seven months have been all about,” he said.

“You’ve brought in players in those windows and gave them the opportunity. Now it’s serious business, serious work. The best 23 players available (will be picked).”

Arnold kept his cards close to his chest on Melbourne Victory ace and ALM leading goal scorer Bruno Fornaroli’s chances of adding to his two Australian caps.

“I’ve known Bruno and what he can do for a long, long time,” Arnold said.

“I don’t think they’re at their best at the moment, the A-League players, because they’ve only had four or five games.

“I think the best is still yet to come for the A-League players.”