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Australia’s Arnold not focusing on faceless France

By AFP - Nov 21,2022 - Last updated at Nov 21,2022

Australia coach Graham Arnold (AFP photo by Glenn Hunt)

DOHA — Coach Graham Arnold said on Monday he refuses to even mention the word France, let alone any of their players, as outsiders Australia prepare for their World Cup opener against the reigning champions in Qatar.

Even without Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante and centre-back Presnel Kimpembe, France are full of global stars, led by Kylian Mbappe.

But Arnold doesn’t want his players to get overawed by illustrious opponents and has tried to present the French as faceless positions with specific strengths and attributes rather than star individuals.

“It’s not being disrespectful at all but I’ve hardly mentioned the word France and I’ve hardly mentioned any players’ names,” said the Socceroos coach.

“They all play in positions, the players know who they are but it’s about identifying those players’ strengths and it’s one against one.”

“There’s 10 blue shirts against 10 yellow shirts and it’s a fight.”

Captain and goalkeeper Mathew Ryan said it was about finding the right balance in their approach.

“The biggest focus for us has been the mentality and the boys have grasped the mentality: we go into every game, whoever we’re facing, with the right amount of respect,” he said.

“We don’t underestimate anybody and we don’t over-respect anyone and that’s a real challenge.”


‘Opportunity to change life’


French centre-back Ibrahima Konate admitted last week that he does not even know the names of any of Australia’s players, and Arnold is determined to change that by full time on Tuesday.

“It’s our job to go out there tomorrow to show them who we are as a nation,” said Arnold of the Group D clash.

“The players have that stage, it’s their stage and this is an opportunity in life that can change your life even more than what they have now.”

Arnold pointed to the example of winger Martin Boyle, who was ruled out of the World Cup on Sunday with a knee injury, as a reason for his players to grasp this opportunity.

“A lot of players don’t even get one chance. All I’d say is every player needs to look at Martin Boyle today and realise how fortunate they are to be here and run off the back of that.”

Running hard is the bare minimum Arnold expects from his players.

“I’ve banned the word ‘fatigued’ and I’ve banned the words ‘in pain’,” he added.

“This is the World Cup, there’s no such thing as being tired after a game or fatigued or having a bit of pain and stiffness: recover quickly and get on with it!”

One problem Australia will not have to deal with is Ballon d’Or winner Benzema, who has been ruled out due to a thigh problem.

But Arnold said he would have rather seen the prolific Real Madrid forward lining up in Qatar.

“I’m disappointed that he’s not playing because it’s a great experience to be able to play against the world player of the year, but that’s how it is.”


Lewandowski duck


Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny believes Robert Lewandowski will break his World Cup duck in Qatar as his country aims to reach the knockout phase for the first time since 1986.

Lewandowski is Poland’s record scorer with 76 goals in 134 games but the Barcelona star failed to find the net four years ago in Russia as the Poles exited in the group stage.

The 34-year-old has struck 25 times across the last two World Cup qualifying campaigns but has yet to open his account at the finals.

“I think it’s definitely important for him [to score],” Szczesny told reporters Monday on the eve of Poland’s opening game against Mexico.

“He’s very motivated before the World Cup. No one doubts that Robert is one of the best players in the world right now.”

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