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Arnold: Taking Australia to the Olympics one of my greatest achievements

Bangkok: Graham Arnold hailed Australia’s qualification for the Tokyo Olympic Games as among the greatest achievements of his coaching career after steering his side to third place at the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020 with a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan on Saturday.

Nick D’Agostino’s individual goal two minutes into the second half sealed the win for the Olyroos and ended Australia’s 12-year Olympic absence, leaving Arnold delighted with the achievements of a squad that features a host of players who rarely play for their clubs.

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“I’d say this is close to being the greatest achievement of my coaching career because this wasn’t part of my job,” said the 56-year-old former Sydney FC coach. “My job is to coach the Socceroos, but I just felt I needed to step in and help these kids because you want to give them a great journey in life.

“With me coaching both teams I felt I could get extra out of the kids. One thing Australia has in these boys is great attitudes and it’s about turning the attitudes into performance."

#AFCU23 - 3rd Place Play-off: Australia 1-0 Uzbekistan

“I’ve worked really hard since I got them in camp in Malaysia in building belief in themselves because when you don’t play all the time you feel rejected and neglected and you feel that you’re not worthy of playing.

“I’m very big on coaching the brain, whatever that tells you the rest will follow. Making them believe in themselves was a big battle, but if you speak it and you believe and if you believe it you will receive it, and they did.”

The win over the Uzbeks means Arnold will be making a fourth appearance at the Olympic Games when he takes the team to Tokyo this summer, having featured as a player in 1988 in Seoul, as assistant coach to Frank Farina in 2004 in Athens and as head coach the last time the country played at the event in Beijing in 2008.

But while qualification is another milestone for a coach who won the A-League title with Sydney FC in 2017 and 2018 after having previously claimed the championship with Central Coast Mariners in 2012, Arnold believes booking a place in Japan will have a positive longer-term impact on the sport in Australia.

“It’s a wonderful achievement,” he said. “A lot of these players don’t play on weekends for their clubs and I’m really proud of the way they’ve worked at this tournament, their attitude has been fantastic.

“We probably came in and we weren’t the strongest team in Asia, or close to being the strongest team. We were ranked number 11 when we first came into Asia and to create what we’ve achieved is so huge for Australian football because it’s the first time we’ve qualified for the Olympics in 12 years.

“I do know that when you have a great pathway and great preparation for the Olympics then it creates six or seven top Socceroo players and for the senior national team that’s very important.”

He also paid tribute to goal scorer D’Agostino, who claimed his third goal of the tournament on Saturday having netted twice in the group phase win over hosts Thailand.

“The kid is amazing,” said Arnold of the Perth Glory player. “I think he’s played four minutes in club football in one year and he can run like that and fight like that and he can produce like that and it’s a miracle."

“I had the kid in Cambodia and he scored two great goals against Korea (in qualifying) to get us here and he scored two against Thailand and one tonight and he’s got the attributes.

“The kid just needs to believe in himself and believe he has a great future ahead of him. With that type of mentality and work rate he can help the side enormously, so I’m very, very proud of him.”

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