While his shattered players attempt to get to grips with letting a golden opportunity slip at the Asian Cup, coach Graham Arnold has to turn his focus to what comes next for the Socceroos.
That could include the end of some players’ international careers.
Australia suffered a dramatic 2-1 extra-time loss to South Korea in the quarter-finals after throwing away a 1-0 lead deep in regular time on Friday (Saturday AEDT) in Doha.
Despite some scratchy performances throughout the tournament, Arnold, contracted until the end of the 2026 World Cup cycle, appears to have clear backing from Football Australia to take his squad forward.
“We’ve got a very young squad. In terms of caps and appearances you’ve got 12 players here that were at the World Cup,” Arnold said.
“So we’re regenerating the squad as we go. Tonight you saw quite a number of new players on the pitch.
“After this Asian Cup, I go home and no doubt there’s some older players that may retire and move on and obviously I’ve learned a lot from the other new players that I brought in.
“I’ve had retirements – some players in Aaron Mooy and Mass Luongo and Tommy Rogic, that were good quality players for Australia and we’re looking to replace.
“That’s the big thing at this moment is what’s next? Who’s next? And that’s what I’m trying to do, to find, as well as trying to win games. And that’s the hardest thing.”
Change looms as early as March’s World Cup qualifiers against Lebanon.
It is unclear how much will happen, given some senior players were among Australia’s strongest performers in Doha.
Bruno Fornaroli (36), Mitch Duke (33), Craig Goodwin (32), in-form Aziz Behich (33), Mat Ryan (31),Martin Boyle (31) and Jackson Irvine (30) are those north of 30.
Mat Leckie, who missed the tournament through injury, is 32.
The defeat is especially bitter as the Socceroos had believed and consistently stated they could win the competition.
“It’s hard to kind of process it all – obviously just now being probably 30 seconds away from a semi-final and then finding yourself on the plane home,” Irvine said.
“Yeah, it hurts.It’s a tough lesson for us to learn as it was five years ago. It feels a bit of a deja vu feeling. Feeling like we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit.”
Skipper Ryan added: “That’s all we can do moving forward: use that hurt and that pain in the disappointment to spur us on and motivate us to achieve even more moving forward.”
It is the third time Arnold has overseen a quarter-final exit, after 2019 and when he was interim boss in 2007.
The irrepressible Goodwin had given Australia the lead when he volleyed home in the 42nd minute in front of 39,632 fans at the Al Janoub Stadium.
Australia then let multiple chances to double their lead slip before Lewis Miller needlessly dived in on Son Heung-min, giving away a penalty deep into stoppage time.
Hwang Hee-chan coolly slammed the spot-kick into the top corner in the sixth minute of injury time to take the game to extra-time.
In the 104th minute, Miller brought down Hwang on the edge of the area, and Spurs’s Son lifted a wonderful free kick into the top corner for what proved the winner.
Australia’s hopes effectively evaporated minutes later when Aiden O’Neill lunged in and caught Hwang with his studs, with his initial yellow card upgraded to a straight red after a VAR referral.
“It’s quite devastating, quite emotional for the players and staff how we finished the game. We played well for the first 90 minutes till we conceded the penalty,” Arnold said.
Despite having two days’ less rest, South Korea finished stronger with the wind taken out of Australia’s sails.
South Korea have teed up a semi-final against Jordan, who beat Tajikistan 1-0 earlier on Friday.