<
>

Australia coach Graham Arnold has Socceroos blocking out 'noise' ahead of crucial World Cup clash vs. Denmark

play
Previewing the Socceroo's do-or-die World Cup clash with Denmark (1:58)

ESPN's Joey Lynch provides an update from Australia's training base in Qatar ahead of their final group stage game at the World Cup. (1:58)

DOHA, Qatar -- Australia coach Graham Arnold has never been one to prevaricate when it comes to his messaging. Be it an unwavering expectation of victory, the unmatched power of mythological Aussie DNA or the fighting ability and perseverance of the 26 "boxing kangaroos" in his World Cup squad, Arnold's repertoire of talking points have never really had subtlety and subtext at their core.

- World Cup 2022: News and features | Schedule | Squads

Thus, it should come as little surprise that as Arnold has begun preparing the Socceroos for one of the biggest games in their footballing history, he's adopted an unambiguous and direct line with his players.

All that noise blasting in from the outside world? All those distractions seeping through their phone screens? The insidious fatigue creeping in after two short turnarounds? There's a simple solution: ignore it all. It's forthright in the extreme, but also what Arnold is hoping will keep his players focused and prepared to face Denmark in one of the biggest games of their lives on Wednesday.

"When you remove that type of thing mentally -- fatigue -- and don't talk about it [it can be overcome]," said Arnold. "And [on] special occasions, it's not every day of your life you can play in a World Cup game. When you get yourself mentally ready, that's the most important thing -- and the boys are in very good spirits."

Placing a significantly higher degree of importance on the mental side of the game than most, Arnold has a prior history of attempting to manifest his own, more favourable reality, including banning the use of the word "heat" when his side was forced to play a series of World Cup qualifiers in a Kuwaiti hub in June 2021. Of course, the efficacy of relying on intransigence to overcome reality is contentious, but defender Harry Souttar isn't discounting the virtue of this mind-over-matter mentality, especially in the wake of his recovery from an ACL rupture suffered in November of last year.

"I think it is possible, yeah," he said. "One thing that I've had to be over the past 12 months is mentally strong. So I like to think I'm good in that area. One of the things we always say in camp is that if you believe something then it's achievable, so we've got to block out all the outside noise and focus as we did after the France game, on this Denmark game."

Arnold's side became just the third men's Australian team to win a FIFA World Cup game thanks to their 1-0 triumph over Tunisia on Saturday, also securing a first clean sheet since 1974 in the process. An important bounce back after the 4-1 loss and hefty reality check they were handed by France in their opening game of the tournament, it leaves their round of 16 destiny entirely in their own hands heading into their clash with the Danes: win and they're into the knockout phase; draw and they're still looking pretty good; lose and they're on their way home.

"If you go into a game with a mindset that a draw is enough, it can be difficult, and it can be a long 90 minutes," attacker Ajdin Hrustic said. "But [attacking] was a mindset we have. If we go in the right mindset, [with] heads up on the park it can be a great result for us.

"I think we shouldn't put too much pressure on ourselves. I think we shouldn't forget that playing in a World Cup is also something you should enjoy. Because nothing's guaranteed, and it's every four years. If you go in with that positive mindset with good energy, I think you'll only [get] good back, which is a great result for us."

Predictably, the Socceroos' promising outlook has led to a mass outbreak of World Cup fever back in Australia; their team possibly getting out of the group for the first time since 2006 supercharging the quadrennial boost that the generally unheralded sport receives Down Under. The scenes that accompanied the Socceroos' win over Tunisia -- Federation Square in Melbourne descending into a heaving mass of humanity blanketed in the thick smoke and red glow of flares -- have rapidly made their way across the world and infiltrated the Socceroos' camp as a source of inspiration.

But with just three sessions between games against the Eagles of Carthage and De Rod-Hvide, Arnold is being forced to walk an increasingly thin tightrope on this front. With so much of his game plan built upon principles of physicality, effort, and unyielding commitment, he needs to harness the energy that has built around his side to motivate and prepare them to shirtfront the Danes and remove their technical advantage from the equation. Yet, at the same time, too much emotional and spiritual loading may backfire by creating an environment in which his overwrought team crumbles under the sense of occasion.

"That's why I went to huddle straight after the game," said Arnold, referencing the whole-squad congregation that took place in the middle of the Al Janoub Stadium after the win. "Because if there's one thing I learned [from the Olyroos campaign] at the Olympics, was [that] after a big win against Argentina, that it's too much celebration, and that celebration, I'm sorry, is social media.

"They get on that until four or five in the morning and watch all the great comments and enjoy all that s---e. And it affects the players and affects the sleep patterns. If you're up till five in the morning looking at that and looking at the good comments and people backing you... the same people [that] are backing you, the day after the ones killing you -- so just get rid of it and don't look at it.

"I'm really glad I played in the days where there were no mobile telephones and no journos giving you ratings out of 10 and things like that. I think players these days are so mentally strong because of that."

Of course, for all the positivity that has surrounded Australia in recent days, a daunting task awaits them at the Al Janoub Stadium on Wednesday against a wounded Denmark. After coming into the tournament being mooted as a potential dark horse to claim the trophy, a scoreless draw with Tunisia and a 2-1 loss to France in their opening two games mean that the Danes - semifinalists at last year's European Championship -- must now beat the Socceroos to hold out any hope of avoiding an ignominious group-stage exit. Needless to say, an inability to beat a perceived lesser footballing nation in Australia to avoid such a scenario would not be taken well back home.

- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

After deploying his side in a back five for their first opening two fixtures, Danish media expects coach Kasper Hjulmand to switch to a more attacking four-man defensive front against Australia in anticipation of a defensively-minded approach from their foes. And pulling the strings in the midfield will be Christian Eriksen, who is representing his nation at the World Cup just a year and a half after suffering a cardiac arrest on the pitch during the European Championships.

"Christian is probably one of the most intelligent players that you can come across," teammate Kasper Schmeichel said. "He is the heart and soul and brains of what we do and he possesses qualities that very few players in the world do -- and on top of that, he's selfless.

"He works his socks off and he runs like crazy for this team and he's quite simply a world-class player. I'm so happy to see him performing at that level week in and week out at Manchester United."

For his part, Arnold told reporters on Monday afternoon that he had a full contingent of players to choose from heading into Wednesday's fixture, Nathaniel Atkinson returning from an injury that ruled him out of the win over Tunisia, but that he wasn't inclined to make sweeping changes to a system he has honed over the past four-and-a-half-years or personnel that delivered a victory last time out.

"We're going to focus on ourselves," the coach said. "If we spend too much time, if we spend a day or two just focusing on Denmark, then you know we're doing the wrong thing. In my view, it's more about getting ourselves ready, mentally and tactically and giving the right messages to the players. That is high belief, having that belief in what we do. [It's] lifting that energy and that energy is great.

"The boys are in great spirits and the focus is on ourselves. We can't control what they do. We can help control [some of what they do], but we can't control everything. What we can do is get ourselves ready."