With the announcement on Monday afternoon that the Olyroos would meet cross-Tasman rivals the Oly-Whites in a two-game series in September, an already busy period for Australia’s national sides got even more demanding.
Earmarked for September 6 at Wollongong’s WIN Stadium and September 9 at Sydney’s Campbelltown Stadium, the Olyroos fixtures will be followed on September 10 by the Socceroos first 2022 World Cup qualifying fixture in Kuwait.
That timing means that Graham Arnold, who holds the head coaching position for both the Socceroos and the Olyroos, will miss the two coming games against New Zealand. Young Socceroos boss Gary van Egmond – who was appointed to that role in June – has been tapped to lead Australia’s U23 in his absence.
With the FFA’s media release explicitly stating that van Egmond would also take charge of any potential Olyroos fixtures in October and November – when Arnold’s Socceroos will be taking on Nepal (October 10), Taiwan (October 15) and Jordan (November 14) – it appears as though this power-sharing agreement will not be a one-off.
“We are pleased with how this structure will work over the next six months,” Arnold was quoted as saying in the FFA’s release announcing the New Zealand friendlies.
“With Gary (van Egmond) – who is an Olympian himself – working with the Young Socceroos as well as the under-23s, and myself, Rene Meulensteen and Tony Vidmar focussing on the Socceroos but keeping a close eye on the 23s, the fluid communication and pathway between the squads will be maintained.”
Ultimately, the arrangement means that the next occasion in which Arnold will occupy the dugout at a formal Olyroos game will not arrive until January 2020, when his side will seek to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as one of the three best performers (four if Japan are one of the other three) at the 2020 AFC U23 Championships.
Though the fruits of the pathways created by Arnold’s duelling Socceroos/Olyroos postings have can already be observed through the elevation of talents such as Harry Souttar to the Socceroos squad for a recent friendly against South Korea after initially featuring for the Olyroos; the U23 Championships will likely serve as the ultimate arbiter of whether the arrangement that sees Arnold placed at the helm of both the Socceroos and Olyroos is a worthwhile one.
History is both working for and against him.
Australia has never advanced beyond the last eight of the AFC U23 Championships; their previous high-water mark coming in Oman in 2013 when the side reached the quarterfinals before falling Saudi Arabia.
However, the last time that Australia did send a men’s football side to the Olympics came back in 2008 when Arnold was the man at the helm.
The issues of load management, however, go beyond just the Socceroos and Olyroos postings.
As mentioned, van Egmond also counts the Young Socceroos job amongst his responsibilities and, thusly, already has a number of pressing needs surrounding Australia’s U20 side.
Absent from the tournament since 2013, Australia failed to qualify for this year’s edition of the U20 World Cup after being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2018 AFC U19 Championships in Indonesia; bundled out by eventual champions Saudi Arabia.
Their formal journey towards ending those years of absence will begin this November – which doubles as the last international window available to the Olyroos ahead of the 2020 AFC U23 Championships – when they travel to Taiwan for qualification games against Group H opponents Chinese Taipei, Macau and Laos.
Topping that group – or finishing as one of the four best runners up – would ensure the side’s progression the 2020 AFC U19 Championship, which will, in turn, serve as qualification for the 2021 World Cup.
van Egmond is presently in Vietnam, leading a select U18 side at the AFF U18 Championships where they will face Cambodia, the hosts, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore before a potential semi-final on August 17 and final on August 19.
Looking even further afield, a cohort of Joeys – who are currently competing in the AFF U15 Championships – will head off to Vietnam in September for AFC U16 Championship qualifying and a slightly older cohort will be off to the U17 World Cup in Brazil a month later.
The Junior Matildas on Monday evening flew out for a tour of the Pacific that will also serve as preparations for September’s 2019 AFC U16 Women’s Championships.
To be held in Thailand, the Junior Matildas have been grouped alongside the host nation, Japan and Bangladesh for the Championships.
Ultimately, Head Coach Rae Dower’s side will need to reach the final to secure a place at next year’s World Cup; India is already guaranteed one of the three AFC places at the World Cup as its hosts.
The Young Matildas – who recently confirmed Leah Blayney as their new Head Coach – are set to travel to Thailand for the 2019 AFC U19 Women’s Championships in October, where they have been grouped alongside Thailand, North Korea and Vietnam.
The Matildas will also soon be back in action, with Head Coach Ante Milicic to lead the side into Olympic qualifiers in early 2020.
Combining with a restructuring of the organisation following the breaking away of the A-League, W-League and Y-League and a number of staffing changes at the top of the organisation, the coming slate of games mean that the FFA, both in terms of resources and its people, will be stretched to the limit over the coming months.