Preparing to enter the dugout in a competitive fixture for the first time since his side was eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup by a lone goal from the United Arab Emirates’ Ali Mabkhout, Socceroos Head Coach Graham Arnold wants his side to get merciless.
Taking over the reins of the Australian national side following the departure of Dutchman Bert van Marwijk after the 2018 World Cup; Arnold’s sides have quickly taken on the ethos of the 56-year-old former Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC boss but have been increasingly blunt in front of goal.
The 1-0 defeat that saw the Socceroos crash out of the Asian Cup was the third time in five games at that tournament that the Socceroos had failed to find the back of the net; Arnold’s side also unable to score as it fell 1-0 to Jordan in the tournament’s opening game and requiring a penalty shootout to break a 0-0 deadlock against Uzbekistan in the Round of 16.
Though it comes with the important caveat that it was with a highly experimental side, the Socceroos then failed to score in their only game since the Asian Cup as they went down 1-0 to South Korea in June.
This ineffectualness was something that Arnold, in a conference call with journalists on Friday morning, clearly identified as needing improvement ahead of the commencement of World Cup qualifying next month.
“It’s time these boys got ruthless,” the Socceroos boss said.
“We’ve dominated so many games since I’ve been in charge and it’s time we finished teams off. Every time we’ve played Asian opposition, we’ve created a lot of chances and not scored.
“Obviously – playing against packed defences that defend very deep
– coming up with some great combination play and having more of our front players fit now is important.
“Having players with a 1v1 action that can change the game is important as well.
“It’s a lesson that we’ve learnt. As coaches we’re always learning lessons, we’ve learned a few along the way and we’ll be ready for when it comes.”
Looking to potentially answer Arnold’s call for a pitiless finisher in front of goal is Adam Taggart.
Missing out on selection for the Asian Cup while a member of Brisbane Roar, Taggart secured a move to K-League side Suwon Bluewings in February and has since proven a revelation; scoring 14 goals in 25 appearances across all competitions for the club and securing K-League player of the month honours for July.
“I get to watch his games every Monday on my computer,” Arnold said of Taggart, who was a second half substitute against South Korea in June.
“He’s been great. It’s not only the goals that he’s scoring but his work rate has been fantastic, his combination play, he’s in really great shape. It’s exciting to have him in the squad.”
Another potential attacking option for the Socceroos, but one without a home, is striker Tomi Juric.
The 28-year-old has been without a club since he departed Swiss Super League club FC Luzern, with whom he made just nine total appearances for across all competitions during the 2018-19 season, in February.
Though a return to A-League side Western Sydney Wanderers had been rumoured, Wanderers’ gaffer Markus Babbel said earlier in August that the Asian Champions League winner had rebuffed a return to Wanderland in favour of pursuing a move to another European club; which was confirmed by Arnold on Friday.
“He’s looking for another club in Europe,” the Socceroos boss said of Juric.
“He’s in Croatia at the moment working as a personal trainer, keeping fit, but he’s pretty hell-bent on playing over in Europe.”
The Socceroos will kick off their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign against the Kuwaitis at the Al Kuwait Sports Club Stadium on September 11.
They will then end their year with a clash by hosting Nepal at Canberra’s GIO Stadium on October 10, heading to Kaohsiung City to take on Taiwan on October 15 and heading to the Middle East to take on familiar foes Jordan on November 14.
With his squad for the recent friendly against South Korea dominated by domestic and Asian-based names in an effort to give some more established players a break, Arnold and members of his staff have been in Europe taking stock of the Socceroos playing ranks ahead of those fixtures.
“Between René (Meulensteen) and myself, we’ve met and watched 26, 27 players,” Arnold, speaking from London, told the conference call.
“And that includes some of the young boys.
“Ajdin Hrustic is doing really well in Holland. George Timotheou is playing at Zulte Waregem in Belgium and is one to keep an eye on. Brandon Borello is doing great things in Germany; he’s playing in the first team. John Iredale has moved to Wolfsburg’s second team and is scoring healthily over there.
“René’s been around a lot of the players. He flew down to Cyprus to watch Apostolos Giannou play.
“We’re just trying to get there to be supportive of the boys, to see what physical condition they’re in but also mentally how they’re feeling.
“The break they had, we created depth in that South Korea game, so the boys had a rest and it’s the first time they’ve had a proper pre-season. They’re feeling refreshed, feeling great and looking forward to the campaign ahead.”