Five things for Socceroos to do ahead of World Cup qualifiers

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The end of a disappointing 2019 AFC Asian Cup gives a little time for reflection. Football never stops, of course, but the next few months before qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup starts are as close as it comes to taking a rest.

This is a time that can be used to maximise chances of qualification for the next big tournament and here is what the Socceroos should before competitive football gets going again.

1. Pray for expansion 

The biggest boost that could be given to Australia’s chances is for the proposal of FIFA president Gianni Infantino to come to pass.

If there are 48 instead of 32 teams at the 2022 World Cup then Asia has eight spots instead of four and the path obviously becomes a great deal easier.

If not, the ride is set to be a tricky one. The Asian Cup demonstrated that standards on the continent are rising, if not at the top then at least at the levels underneath.

All around the continent, improvements are being made, money spent and experts are being hired. If the road to Russia was rocky, the one that leads to Qatar will not be for the faint-hearted.

2. Find a couple more plans of attack

While there were some serious injury issues at the 2019 Asian Cup and the two defeats could easily have gone another way, there is no getting around the fact that the Socceroos were lacking in certain areas, especially attack.

As much as possible over the next few months, Graham Arnold, who has not been in place for long, needs time with his players to try and add a few more strings to the Socceroo bow.

This is especially needed when defences are tight and deep as they often were in the United Arab Emirates and will be again during qualification, especially when teams come to Australia.

In response, Australia were predictable, often going wide and lobbing balls into the box. Such a tactic is always going to have diminishing returns against teams that expect it and have prepared for it. 

3. Find a striker 

For those who have the desire to look back over the action in the United Arab Emirates then there will be plenty of possession and pressure but little penetration on display.

The Socceroos scored six goals in the Middle East but they all came in two games.

In three matches, Australia failed to find the net. It may be an obvious point but the need for someone who can put the ball in the net when good chances may be hard to come by is clear.

It is easier said than done. Tim Cahill had that knack of coming up with a goal when one didn’t seem likely and while it would be hard to find someone to match talent, if Arnold can find a reliable goalscorer then much else will fall into place.

Jamie Maclaren has shown in the past he knows where the goal is but didn’t thrive on wide supply and Apostolis Giannou, on his own at times, also worked hard but at the moment opposing defences are not exactly trembling in their boots.

4. Insist on regular playing time

Coaches of Asian national teams that contain players in the European leagues always tell their exports sooner or later that playing time is of the utmost priority if they want to keep being selected for international games.

Yet when it comes down to it, it is hard not to select the favourites.

A lack of club time can be costly however. In defence Trent Sainsbury was not at his best and not playing very much for PSV Eindhoven may have something to do with that.

Club and national team mate Aziz Behich has also been on the sidelines more than the pitch in recent months. Between them, they have made just a handful of league appearances. That can’t be good.

Arnold should make a bigger deal of the fact that those who are not playing for their clubs will be less likely to do so for their country.

5. Remember the positives

It wasn't all bad. When the injured players such as Aaron Mooy, Martin Boyle and Daniel Arzani return then the situation will already look brighter.

There were also encouragement from those that were in the UAE. Awer Mabil, Chris Ikonomidis and Rhyan Grant can be pleased with their performances and confident of future call-ups.

Mat Ryan was his now usual solid self and there are plenty of options in wide positions. That needs to be built upon.  

Graham Arnold has shown with Sydney that he is the best Aussie boss available.

Coming in a few months before the Asian Cup started, the tournament was always going to be an important part of development for the team, not necessarily an end in itself.

For a coach who stresses the need to learn from failure, Arnold has to show that he can do just that from the Asian Cup.