Make no bones about it, from an Australian perspective, Russia 2018 is done and dusted. Sure, there are more goals and VAR controversies still to unfold, as well as a new champion to be crowned, but the Socceroos’ and new boss Graham Arnold’s minds should now be in Asia. 

Australia will begin its Asian Cup campaign against Jordan on January 6th. Despite the disappointment of the straight sets exit in Russia, Arnold now takes the reigns with a chance to build something special with his Socceroos squad.

Lamenting Russia and learning from it are two entirely different things and from the stands, Arnold would have watched the matches intently.

The most important reality for the Socceroos’ immediate future is Arnold’s interpretation of what he saw, what he liked, disliked, and the men he sees as part of the future.

Clearly Massimo Luongo, Jamie Maclaren and Matt Jurman were not part of Bert van Marwijk’s plans in Russia, despite impressive performances prior to his tenure. Jackson Irvine, Tomi Juric and Robbie Kruse undoubtedly were, in spite of many seeing potential advantages elsewhere.

Arnold will no doubt bring a fresh view on certain players and have his favourites and question marks, just like the 66 year old Dutchman. So what did the new mentor learn from Russia 2018?

He may have learnt a lot more considering van Marwijk only played 15 of the 23 players available to him; yet what he did see will inform his Asian Cup selections.

No doubt impressed with the performance of the back four, there will be no temptation to venture into an Ange-like experiment with anything different. 

Trent Sainsbury will be atop Arnold’s list of priorities, as should developing a replacement for veteran Mark Milligan who, nearing 33, will not be around forever. If Mile Jedinak isn’t selected on any given day, Sainsbury will probably wear the armband; a situation that could extend well into the future.

Aziz Behich and Josh Risdon worked tirelessly throughout the tournament. Behich has become a major threat for the Socceroos and made the left defensive position his own.

The international interest around Risdon is not surprising. I was privileged to interview him a few months back and was impressed by his poise, modesty and quiet determination. Never before has Australia had two wing backs capable of playing the contemporary running game so well; pushing forward frantically and providing service.

The midfield impressed. Jedinak again showed his steely determination, despite evidence of struggling as a bigger, slower man at times. When midfield pressure on the ball is lacking and the opposition given time, Jedinak can be caught out as he drops to support the centre-backs.  

Getting the correct mix of players around the Jedinak in midfield is important. Arnold could well have a Manchester City midfielder at his disposal if the reports of Aaron Mooy’s return to his previous owners are accurate.

Mooy was terrific in Russia. He was poised and precise against quality opposition and the general control of possession by the midfield, highlighted against Peru, would have the new manager excited. 

Tom Rogic finally showed national supporters what Celtic fans have been witnessing for some time. With age on their side, Arnold could expect most of the midfield gang from Russia to be intact in Qatar 2022.

Throw in Jackson Irvine, Dimi Petratos and the mystery of Massimo Luongo and there is a lot to like about the midfield stocks.

Of course, up front will be the continual point of contention. Banging away with Juric doesn’t appear to be bearing fruit, with Maclaren touted as the future by some. Without opportunity, I guess we will never now.

Where Tim Cahill’s future lies is anybody’s guess.

Arnold will be licking his chops at the chance to let Daniel Arzani loose at the Asian Cup - notwithstanding that Arzani was rejected by Sydney FC under Arnold. Admittedly he will need to find a way to keep him out of Behich’s way on the left. The two were well out of sync at times; expectedly so considering Arzani’s rawness.

After watching Andrew Nabbout at A-League level for some time, the new boss was no doubt pleased with his rise. Positionally, Arnold may approach things differently. Perhaps the push for Mathew Leckie to play centrally is credible, and Robbie Kruse played a solid tournament despite unfair criticism. 

Graham Arnold would be most comfortable with his goal-keeper Mathew Ryan. Bluntly, he has become a star and reports suggest that a lucrative offer comes his way in the short term.

It is a complex jigsaw puzzle for Graham Arnold, one which he will be excited to put together. There was a lot to like in Russia and the Socceroos look ready for an impressive Asian Cup campaign.

Categories: Opinion | Socceroos | Asia | World Cup

socceroos, 2019 asian cup, #russia2018

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