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Real work starts now as Socceroos plot World Cup path

3 minute read

The Socceroos have cruised through the first phase of World Cup qualifying with six wins from six matches, but the task will get a whole lot tougher from here.

GRAHAM ARNOLD.
GRAHAM ARNOLD. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has set his team the goal of dominating the next round of World Cup qualifying, saying he does not want to experience "another Peru".

The Socceroos beat Palestine 5-0 in Perth on Tuesday night to finish their first phase of qualifying with a perfect six-from-six wins and a 22-0 for-and-against record.

Despite their dominance, it was not enough for Australia to overtake South Korea in the world rankings, meaning they miss out on a spot in pot one for the next round of qualifying.

The significance of that is big, given that Australia will now have either Japan, Iran or South Korea in their group.

Only the top two teams from each group of six in the next phase will earn automatic qualification for the 2026 World Cup.

The teams who finish third and fourth will be thrust into another group stage, where the stakes will be higher.

Australia had to qualify for the 2022 World Cup the hard way, with their struggles during the later group phase forcing them into a sudden-death play-off against Peru.

The Socceroos bucked the odds to beat Peru via a dramatic penalty shootout, and Arnold wants to avoid such dramas this time around.

"When we went through the last campaign we won the first 11 (matches)," Arnold said. "It's another goal that I've set the boys to achieve something special - winning more than 11 games straight.

"I have high expectations all the time and I drive those high expectations to the boys and I don't want to go through another Peru game. That's the last thing that I want."

Australia made it to the round of 16 at the 2022 World Cup, with their run ended by eventual champions Argentina.

Arnold wants to at least make the quarterfinals in 2026, and he believes he'll have the talent to achieve the ambitious goal.

"The last 16 was a historic moment for the Socceroos and what we did, but there's boys playing in the higher leagues now," Arnold said.

"(Alessandro) Circati was incredible against Palestine, and he's so mature for his age - 20 years old.

"I think that's a tip of the iceberg because next year he's going to be playing in Serie A in Italy against some incredible strikers, so he's going to get better and better.

"And so is Cam Burgess (in the EPL) and Connor Metcalfe (in the Bundesliga) and these younger ones."

Arguably Australia's brightest talent with the biggest upside is Nestory Irankunda, who scored his maiden international goal against Palestine and has signed with Bundesliga heavyweights Bayern Munich.

"I went away with the under-17s for their Asian Cup 12 months ago, and you could see he was a little bit immature there and wasn't as disciplined as he should have been," Arnold said of the 18-year-old.

"But he has not been late to one meeting (during the Socceroos camp). He's done everything we've asked. He's had a great camp. Now he goes to Bayern and obviously now it's up to him.

"I had a good sit down chat with him the other day about going to Bayern and what it means. It's not like because you've gone to Bayern, it's all done. This is the start. It's all about hard work and passion and drive.

"He's an exciting talent, but there's a long way to go."

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