Mateship and grit, Australia's Qatar success has roots in qualifying

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group D - Australia v Denmark - Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah, Qatar - November 30, 2022 Australia coach Graham Arnold celebrates after qualifying for the knockout stages REUTERS/Albert Gea

DOHA, Dec 1 (Reuters) - The spirit of mateship and never-say-die attitude that Australia have ridden to the knockout stages of the World Cup was forged on a long and rocky journey through qualification, when they were often doubted but always kept their eyes on the prize.

Australia's unity and fighting spirit were very much in evidence in the victories over Tunisia and Denmark that have earned the Socceroos consecutive World Cup wins for the first time and a last-16 date with Argentina.

The Socceroos played 20 matches in their qualifying campaign with the biosecure hubs and lockdowns compounding the long distances that Australian teams always have to travel.

The result, coach Graham Arnold said before the Denmark match, was a squad who know each other and what was required of them very well.

"What we've gone through over the last four and a half years, we've gone through some difficult periods obviously, through the pandemic, and we've only played four games out of 20 at home," he said before the Denmark game.

"The boys know what to do, they know what my expectations are," he added.

After the Denmark win, Arnold said he had also learned a lot about his players.

"We were probably the last team everyone thought would qualify but it shows (what you can achieve) when you walk on the pitch and have the right mentality, when it's a war and you go out there and fight and chase and those things," he said.

"I know the mentally strong (players) and the ones that will die for the team and die for each other, so they're the ones I back and they're the ones that I know that are gonna get the job done."

Australia have also become very familiar with Qatar, having played five matches in the country in the two years before the World Cup, including the playoffs against the United Arab Emirates and Peru that earned them their ticket to the finals.

That experience gave Arnold a key insight on Wednesday when he saw Denmark had selected a team with pace out wide to chase balls behind the Australian defence.

"In Qatar, once that ball hits a pitch, and it's a long ball, it skids and it flies straight through to the goalkeeper," he said.

"It's always difficult for players or teams to play those balls in behind."

Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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