Socceroos coach Graham Arnold is daring to dream after Australia were drawn alongside co-hosts Argentina and Lionel Messi for next year’s Copa América. Wednesday’s draw in Colombia for the South American continental championship put Australia into Group A alongside the two-time World Cup champions as well as Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia and old rivals Uruguay.
The Socceroos will play five group matches against each nation, with the top four teams from the pool progressing into the quarter-finals of the 12-nation tournament. A provisional draw from governing body Conmebol has Australia kicking off their campaign in Cordoba against Uruguay, famously the nation the Socceroos got past in a play off in 2005 to reach their first World Cup since 1974.
The Socceroos then take on Paraguay and Bolivia before facing Messi and the Albiceleste in Buenos Aires on 26 June. Arnold said despite the world-class nature of their opposition, he is aiming to make the most of Australia’s invitation to be a guest nation at the tournament.
“We’ve got Argentina lined up in our sights,” Arnold said. “We coach the team to go out there with the mentality of winning the game. Nothing will be different. Why can’t we go out there and shock the world and beat Argentina in their own country? That’s the expectation. Top four is our first goal, yes, to get through to the quarter-finals.”
As well as their history with 15-time Copa champions Uruguay, Australia have also clashed with the other giants in their group in Argentina and Chile. Arnold was a player when a Diego Maradona-led Argentina beat Australia over a two-legged play off to reach the 1994 World Cup while Chile beat the Socceroos in the 2014 World Cup and the two nations drew 1-1 at the Confederations Cup in Russia in 2017.
Arnold concedes he faces a challenge across multiple fronts with Australia set to play two World Cup qualifiers shortly before the Copa begins on 12 June while he will also be leading the Olyroos at the Olympic Games if they can successfully qualify for Tokyo 2022.
“This can change our game. It can change not only what we’re doing as the Socceroos, but what we’re doing as a group of people,” Arnold said. “For the players to experience this is phenomenal. The players are hungry for it. My full focus at the moment are these four World Cup qualifiers and getting us qualified as quickly as possible and the Olyroos in January.
“But to be able to go to the Copa América and give people the experience of tough competitions against top players and such a prestigious tournament is going to be great for the next phase of our World Cup qualifiers.”
Fellow guest nation and Asian Cup holders Qatar were drawn in Group B and will face co-hosts Colombia, defending champions Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Qatar played in this year’s Copa along with Japan, drawing their opening group match but failing to get past the group stage. No guest nation has won the Copa, with Mexico coming closest by reaching the final in 1993 and 2001.
Source: The Guardian