Socceroos coach Graham Arnold believes the team that battled their way past Denmark and into the World Cup last 16 has a case to be considered the new “golden generation” of Australian football.
Arnold’s squad are only the second Australian team to progress from the group stage of the World Cup after the 2006 vintage, a side almost entirely made up of household names from top European clubs.
The 2022 squad have far less pedigree but have matched their predecessors’ achievement in getting to the knockout stages, and surpassed them by winning two matches at a World Cup.
“I’m just so proud of the players, the work ethic, the commitment, the fight that they had and the way they played,” Arnold, an assistant to coach Guus Hiddink in 2006, told reporters.
“I’m just so proud that we’ve been able to put smiles on people’s faces, it’s first time ever an Australian team has won two games in a row at the World Cup.
“Maybe we’re talking about a new golden generation now, because we’ve been listening and hearing about the golden generation of 2006, who got four points and now we’ve got six.”
Arnold paid special tribute to goalscorer Mat Leckie and centre half Harry Souttar and said he had selected his teams in Qatar as much for their fighting spirit as their skill.
“You need the right mentality,” he added. “People were probably surprised with some of my selections at the start of this World Cup, but it’s just that I know the players so well.
“I know the mentally strong ones and the ones that will die for the team and die for each other. They’re the ones I back and they’re the ones that I know that are gonna get the job done.”
Thousands of fans descended on Federation Square in the heart of Melbourne in the middle of the night to watch the match and there were frenzied scenes when Leckie scored the winning goal, and again at the final whistle.
“A hell of a ride!”
It’s all about the journey for Matthew Leckie, your @Budweiser Player of the Match.
Hard work and consistency led to this moment.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) November 30, 2022
“I truly believe that the Socceroos are the team that unites a nation,” Arnold said.
“You don’t see this when the Cricket World Cup is on, Federation Square like it is, or in pubs like they are, and if it’s rugby union, rugby league or anything. But the World Cup of football unites a nation.”