Graham Arnold (l) is happy with the potential in the group chosen for the Asian Cup. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS
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Socceroos keen to find goalscorers as Asian Cup starts

Anna Harrington January 12, 2024

Plenty has changed between Socceroos coach Graham Arnold’s first Asian Cup and his third.

But heading into Australia’s opening match in Qatar against India on Saturday night, there is still one uncertainty: who will score the goals?

In the 26-man squad, only striker Mitch Duke and defender Harry Souttar have more than 10 international goals to their credit.

Injuries to Mathew Leckie (14 goals) and Awer Mabil (nine), coupled with Arnold’s call not to include Jamie Maclaren (11), have further reduced the list of recognised goalgetters.

“It’s been a concern since Timmy Cahill’s retired,” Arnold said ahead of their opening match of the tournament at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium. 

“I think even under Ange (Postecoglou), Timmy was the main goalscorer there as well. 

“It’s something that we’ve tried to share amongst the team and amongst the front players and how important it is to have those players getting (into) the box and getting those chances to score. 

“And I’ve said this publicly, but it also is very, very important our set pieces and we get our set pieces right. Because at the end of the day, set pieces can change the game as well. 

“So we’re working on all those patterns and we’re working on the finishing and getting players in those positions to put the ball in the back of the net, and that’s all we can do.”

 Riley McGree’s unpredictability excites Graham Arnold who wants him to venture more into the box. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS 

Arnold has one idea: Riley McGree.

Freshly recovered from a foot injury, the 25-year-old’s unpredictability and late runs into the box excites Arnold.

“On the goalscoring side of things, that’s something that I’m pushing at Riley and talking to him about is getting him in positions in the box to score because I do believe he has that quality to score goals,” he said. 

“I think that once he gets that into his game, you’ll see him go to a higher level, potentially at club football as well.”

Arnold was caretaker coach in a disastrous 2007 tournament, then led the Socceroos in his own right in 2019 when a very different squad to the 2024 edition crashed out in the quarter-finals.

But he is a far more relaxed and confident character now, and that has passed through the squad.

“Just long term in the job. I know the players so well. And they know me so well,” he said.

“Obviously you learn from past experiences in different tournaments and obviously I learned a hell of a lot back in 2007 all the way through. 

“Just keeping the players happy, I think it’s a big thing off the field and obviously on the field that they bring that energy and they do the nation proud.”

 Graham Arnold is keeping everyone guessing about skipper Mat Ryan’s availability. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS 

Arnold wouldn’t be drawn on his starting XI, including whether skipper Mat Ryan – donning a Batmanesque mask protecting his fractured cheekbone – will play.

But he had no plans of looking beyond the clash with India.

“We’ll put, in my view, the best starting line-up out and we’ll go one step at a time,” he said.

“We’re here to win seven games and obviously our expectations are high.”