For Argentina, the turnaround was even shorter than it seems. Their last group game was at 10pm and they didn’t go to bed until around 4am, effectively giving the Australians an extra night’s sleep.
“That has an impact, especially if the next game is a little over 48 hours later,” said Scaloni.
Lest you think Arnold was being overly arrogant, he warned why Argentina – ranked number 3 in the world to face Australia’s number 38 – is so dangerous.
“The brain has to be turned on, not for 90 minutes, 120 minutes, and it’s going to be turned on every second of those 120 minutes,” Arnold said. “That’s because they play two ways. Slow to try to relax you, and then when you relax, they hit you. We have to make sure we are there all the time.”
At the top of the waiting list is, of course, Lionel Messi. The task will be to match the towering Harry Souttar, a revelation at this tournament.
“Obviously we respect the player a lot,” Souttar said. “But I don’t think it’s an individual thing. I think it should be a team collective. We have to be 100 percent in our game. We must always be engaged and alert to any situation. I don’t think it’s up to one person to stop him.
“I think [for] my generation, there have been quite obviously two standout players. And then it will be a long time before we see such people again. But I think for 90 minutes or however long it takes you just sit on the player. Not once did Souttar utter Messi’s name.
Argentina will have another advantage, so soberly noted by star midfielder Rodrigo de Paul: possession. The statistics will show this vividly. It is like an agreed upon set of facts in a court case.
Souttar’s Australian adventure coincided with the start of what became a long and grueling qualifying campaign four years ago. He and Arnold said that even as results waxed and waned, strength was built all along.
“I think if you told me four years ago I would be in this position. me probably would I believed you,” he said, “because we had so much faith in ourselves and we knew what we could do as a team and as a team.”
Arnold turned it a different way. “COVID helped bring this team together and unify the culture, the family culture and the camaraderie,” he said, “because these guys were cooped up in hotels, so they couldn’t get off the floor they were on.
“They had to socialize with each other by playing pool or table tennis, whatever. And that really united the players as a family environment.”
Australia played more qualifiers in Qatar than Australia, losing only one. Now that comes back to benefit them.
What else can these most surprising Socceroos hope to achieve after uniting the nation and putting a smile on their face as promised? “We’re not done yet,” Arnold said. “That is the most important. We show up to win another game tomorrow.”
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