Arnold braces for 'hardest ever' World Cup qualifying campaign


Socceroos coach Graham Arnold expects the resumption of the qualifying campaign for the 2022 FIFA World Cup to be the toughest and most demanding in the national team's history.

And he said his squad depth will play a huge part in Australia's quest for a spot at the big table.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused havoc with the worldwide race for Qatar and the truncated qualifying campaign has been further postponed to next year.

The Socceroos have won four matches out of four in the current stage of Asian qualifying and are hot favourites to win their group that comprises Jordan, Kuwait, Nepal and Chinese Taipei.

The 32-team World Cup finals will kick off in November 2022 which leaves little time for Asia - which is one of FIFA's largest confederations - to determine its four or five allocated spots.

"The delays and uncertainty during this pandemic can be frustrating but there is nothing we can do about it because the AFC has made these decisions in the interests of player safety," Arnold said.

"Next year we may have 14 World Cup qualifiers and what's ahead of us will be the toughest qualifying program we have ever had, no doubt about that, but we are very confident and looking forward to the challenge.

"This time we will have two matches at every window so we will be playing a lot more football at home and abroad.

"Which is why depth will be more important than it has ever been.

"The plan I had in mind when I took over in 2018 was to have solid depth throughout the squad and to have two to three players for every position.

"I had about 16 to 18 players to start with because the national team nearly always played the same 11 with the same replacements.

"That's why I took the Olympic team as well and why I gave many players an opportunity to show what they can do. I wanted to see what was next."

Arnold expects traditional rivals Japan, Iran and Korea Republic to be up there with Australia as front runners in the race to reach the World Cup finals.

He is confident that his mixture of experienced and young players will get through the stiff challenge and lead the national team to its sixth, and fifth straight, finals participation.

"I believe we will be able to compete strongly with big guns Japan and Korea Republic on an equal footing in terms of depth and we will face anything they would throw at us. I would not have said that when I took over this job," he said.

"The road will be hard and demanding but also very exciting. The most important thing is for the players to stay healthy and be happy at their clubs because they will have to be next year."

Arnold said Australia was seeking to play an international match in Europe in October or November.

The coach would use Australia's foreign-based players who number about 36 at the moment.

"The idea is to get the players together to reboot, review and re-energise the campaign to get to Qatar," he said.

"It does not matter who we play. The important thing is to touch base again. We cannot sit idle."