The Socceroos’ world record run in World Cup qualifying may be over, but there’s something significant coach Graham Arnold now wants for his team.
Socceroos coach Graham Arnold was adamant the energy of a 15,000 strong crowd in Japan helped the home side end Australia’s 11-match winning streak as he made a passionate plea for the gates to be thrown open for his team’s crucial next phase of games at home.
The Socceroos are drawn to play unbeaten Saudi Arabia next month as their World Cup qualifying matches reach a climax after the 2-1 loss to the Samurai Blue at Saitama on Tuesday.
Football Australia is hopeful the game will be played in Sydney after the Socceroos, who remain on equal-top of their qualifying pool despite the loss in Japan, were forced to play 11 of the past 12 games on the road because of Covid-19 restrictions at home.
But pointing to sporting events around the world opening up to crowds again amid high vaccination rates, Arnold called on the NSW government to pave the way for the Socceroos to keep their World Cup campaign going at home and in front of crowds.
“I’ve watched Japan play the last three games without a crowd and their energy was nowhere near what it was tonight,” Arnold said after the defeat in Saitama.
“I just really am reaching out to the NSW government and really appealing to them to help us on this journey for our World Cup pathway. NSW is open now. Please help us, we need our crowd back.”
“I haven’t been home for six months but now that NSW have vaccinated 80 per cent plus, we’re still four weeks away from this game, they’d really help us by allowing fans into the stadium.
“The energy the crowd gave the Japanese players in the last 10 minutes really helped get them home. I just really appeal to the government to help us on this journey to qualify for a World Cup. We need our crowd back.
“One month ago, in Japan, which is in a state of emergency, 5000 people were allowed to come. Tonight was 15,000, we need that.”
Man of the match Adjin Hrustic, who scored his second goal for the Socceroos from a free kick after being denied a penalty in the second half, was in his coach’s corner.
“There have been rumours that we will play back at home again,” Hrustic said.
“The most important thing for us is that we need energy … and we need our 12th man, and that’s our fans. We will hopefully go back home, but with fans it will be great. You saw that we needed it in the last dying minutes.”
Hrustic believed he had earned a penalty after he was cleaned up by Hidemasa Morita just outside the box. He connected with the free kick to score his team’s only goal, which wasn’t enough in the end.
“If he didn’t kick me I would have stayed on my feet and put it into the back of the net,” he said.
“I did think it was a penalty. We played well, I think we deserved more.