World Cup 2022: Socceroos loss to France reveals wider issue | Graham Arnold comments

Imagine Brazil or England had just lost its opening World Cup game 4-1, and the coach fronted up to face the media.

He would face a grilling and answers would be demanded.

But when Graham Arnold faced a press conference after Australia’s 4-1 loss to France on Wednesday morning (AEDT), it was over in just five questions in five minutes.

One of those questions came from a Sudanese journalist asking what the reasons for the defeat were.

“At the end of the day, the quality of the French team,” Arnold said. “They are the previous world champions for a reason.

“They were so much bigger and stronger and faster than us today, but the boys did all they could and that’s all I can ask.”

Arnold was asked how he would get the players up for the next game against Tunisia on Saturday night.

“We’ve built the belief, and the energy and focus in the last week. Working hard in camp, the way we started, I think they believed,” he said.

“We just got punished by our mistakes. The delivery of their crosses was right on target.”

“Any more questions?” the FIFA official asked before the press conference was quickly wrapped up.

This is not to be too harsh on the Socceroos, they were simply outclassed by a far superior team.

But Australia’s apparent collective shrug of the shoulders as if to say “it is, what it is” shows where football is in this country at the moment.

It’s a long way from the heights of 2006, when the Golden Generation squad took Australia on a wild ride as it reached the final 16.

That squad was filled with players from the top European leagues – the likes of Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Tim Cahill.

This year’s squad includes just two players in one of the top four leagues in Europe – Awer Mabil who is struggling for game time in Spain, and Adjin Hrustic who recently moved to Hellas Verona in Italy.

There were some positives of course. The defensive pairing of Harry Souttar and Kye Rowles could provide Australia with a long-term solution to a lingering issue, and Craig Goodwin scored Australia’s first goal from open play at a World Cup since 2010.

Four years ago Australia lost 2-1 in the opening game against France, with the wash-up centring around a controversial VAR call for France’s first goal.

Now it seems to be an acceptance that Australia just can’t compete with the big teams.

The big question coming into the France game was whether we’d see a performance like Saudi Arabia’s upset against Argentina, or Iran’s poor showing against England.

For the first 20 minutes, it looked like an upset could happen.

France needed a late own goal to beat Australia when the sides met in their opening game at the 2018 World Cup and the Socceroos raised the prospect of a stunning upset this time in Qatar as they took an early lead.

Goodwin, starting after injury ruled out Martin Boyle, put them in front from a Mathew Leckie cross.

However, goals from Adrien Rabiot and Olivier Giroud had France ahead before half-time, and Kylian Mbappe made it 3-1 midway through the second period before another Giroud goal ended any doubt about the outcome.

It was a punishing night at times for some of the Australian players, among them Nathaniel Atkinson, with the 23-year-old Hearts right-back given a torrid time by Mbappe.

“I thought the kid actually did decently well. He did his best against one of the best players in the world,” said Arnold.

“But how do you stop someone so quick? It’s very difficult. It’s a great lesson for the kid and he’ll move on from it.”

If Australia can turn things around against Tunisia, the 4-1 loss to France will soon be forgotten.

But for now it seems like the Socceroos – who scraped into the World Cup after a poor qualifying campaign – are heading home after the group stage.

With the World Cup expanding to 48 teams from 2026, qualifying may pose less of a problem for the Socceroos in the future.

But Football Australia may need to decide whether its happy to be part of the action every four years, or how Australia can actually match some of the world’s best.

– With AFP

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