World Cup 2022: Socceroos Tunisia Group D preview

Graham Arnold is ready to shake up his Socceroos line-up in the wake of their France defeat, with injured defender Nathaniel Atkinson making way as one of several foreshadowed changes for the crucial clash against Tunisia.

Atkinson suffered a right ankle knock during his torrid night against Les Bleus, in which he was handed a tough football lesson by French superstar Kylian Mbappe, and will be unable to keep his place at right back.

Instead, Italy-based Fran Karacic will be charged with helping restore Australia’s leaky defence – which conceded four goals to a rampant French outfit.

Midfield star Ajdin Hrustic, who has recovered from his own ankle complaint, is another strong contender to be deployed into Arnold’s starting lineup for Saturday’s clash.

“He’s getting there, he trained well (on Friday) and he’s recovered well. Mentally and physically he’s in good shape,” Arnold said at his pre-match press conference.

“Tomorrow will be a very, very physical game – Tunisia like a physical game. We’ve got to match the physical aspect of it. But he’s in good shape.”

There could also be movement up front, with Mitchell Duke under pressure from fellow strikers Jamie Maclaren and Jason Cummings to hold his spot leading the line.

Arnold said he was loath to make too many changes, however.

“The boys have pulled up fantastically well. I don’t think there’ll be too many changes,” Arnold said.

“We’ve got to put our strongest line-up out there.

“Tomorrow is a different kettle of fish (compared to the France game). We’ll be in their faces, up high, chasing and pressing, like they do and as other teams do, and being on the front foot.

“I don’t want to give away the starting lineup… Jamie’s obviously a great goalscorer, Mitchell Duke works hard.

“We’ve got some choices to make. At the end of the day I think at some stage you’ll see both of them on the field.”

Atkinson was given a tough time against arguably the best player on the planet, Kylian Mbappe, but on reflection analysis shows the 22 year-old wasn’t totally torn to shreds.

There were 14 one-on-one duels between Mbappe and Atkinson in the game, with Atkinson beaten on three occasions.

Arnold, on Thursday, had made a point of mentioning the youngster’s performance to Australian reporters.

“I just said to Nathaniel: you’re going to remember this for the rest of your life,” Arnold said.

“You’re going to sit there in 20 years’ time when you retire, with a beer in your hand, telling everyone how you played against one of the best players in the world.

“And you’re gonna show them two mistakes but ten things you did great. You’ve gotta look at the positives and what that kid’s gonna learn out of it.”

Even before the injury-enforced line-up change, the Socceroos were well aware of the enormity of the challenge before them with Tunisia’s obsession with football set to manifest in a cauldron of screaming fans and eleven players prepared to do anything for success.

“They are aggressive and they’re going to have 40,000 fans behind them and it’s going to be a truly amazing experience again for everyone,” Arnold told reporters in Doha.

“We’ve got to be ready for that war.

“Fight fire with fire, especially from the start, and then when we’re up, put the fire out.”

Time has been the enemy of the Socceroos after the France game, which finished at midnight on Tuesday. That meant Wednesday was a write off, Thursday included recovery during the day and an evening tactical session and Friday is focused on final preparation.

Still, in a positive development, Ajdin Hrustic has trained strongly and is rated at 95% fitness by Arnold.

Tunisian star Socceroos must stop

The players know what is coming. Graham Arnold, too.

Tomorrow’s World Cup showdown between Australia and Tunisia is more than just a game, with the North African nation’s obsession with football about to manifest in a cauldron of screaming fans and eleven players prepared to do anything for success.

“They are aggressive and they’re going to have 40,000 fans behind them and it’s going to be a truly amazing experience again for everyone,” Arnold told reporters in Doha.

“We’ve got to be ready for that war.”

“Fight fire with fire, especially from the start, and then when we’re up, put the fire out.”

Time has been the enemy of the Socceroos after the France game, which finished at midnight on Tuesday. That meant Wednesday was a write off, Thursday included recovery during the day and an evening tactical session and Friday is focused on final preparation.

Everyone is available for selection, including Ajdin Hrustic, who has trained strongly and is rated at 95% fitness by Arnold.

“And the other 5% doesn’t matter,” the Socceroos coach quipped. “[Hrustic] can start. We’ll see how he is … and make sure he’s ready to go.”

Arnold gave nothing else away in terms of personnel changes from the France game, nor a change in shape to meet the Tunisians, who played a compact five at the back system in a 0-0 draw with Denmark they were unlucky not to win.

“They’ve played that [system against Denmark] only once,” Arnold said. “They went into this first game against Denmark more defensively-minded with a back five, but I expect them to play a 4-3-3.”

Tunisian midfielder Ellyes Skhiri looms as the man to stop. The gifted technician operates from a deep lying midfielder position and sets the tempo for the Tunisians, ensuring their game is not just a chaotic game

“He runs the show. We’ve identified that and we’ll come up with a solution,” Arnold said.

When asked if a player like combative midfielder Cam Devlin could come into calculations as a way to nullify Tunisia’s midfield, Arnold grinned and confirmed he’s in good shape.

Everyone is in contention.

“That was the intention against France, [to be] much higher up the field, like we started in the first 30 minutes. We’ve got to do that for 90, but when you turn over possession so cheaply, you get pushed back – and that’s the technical side that we need to work on.

This game, though, is about more than strategy.

Tunisia, buoyed by their opening draw against Denmark, is backed by a 30,000-strong diaspora in Doha, which has grown to 50,000 for the World Cup, filling up spare rooms and couches of family and friends who live in the Qatari capital.

Football is a uniting force within the North African nation.

The Socceroos are about to walk into a wall of red noise.

Arnold, meanwhile, had a surprising take on what the 4-1 loss to France meant for his young Socceroos group.

“Best friendly we could ever have – it’s a two-game tournament now,” Arnold said. “We’ve got to win the next two, and there’s no better opposition to play against in a so-called friendly than France, that’s going to punish you for every small mistake the way they did.

“We had eleven debutants and that‘s what it’s about, not only for this campaign, but for the next one as well.”

To help get over the let-down of France, Arnold showed his squad the chaotic scenes at Fed Square in Melbourne when Craig Goodwin’s opener went in.

“We miss out on that, we don’t see that here,” he said. “Fed Square. That special moment will stay with those fans forever.”

Locked away at their training base means there has been plenty of time to think and dwell on disappointment, and Arnold made a point of getting in the ear of Nathaniel Atkinson, who had to deal with a rampant Kylian Mbappe.

“I just said to Nathaniel: you’re going to remember this for the rest of your life, mate,” Arnold continued. “You’re going to sit there in twenty years’ time when you retire, with a beer in your hand, telling everyone how you played against one of the best players in the world.

“And you’re going to show them two mistakes but ten things you did great. You’ve got to look at the positives and what that kid’s going to learn out of it.”

Arnold gave only a blank look when asked about criticisms from back in Australia, notably from former Socceroos John Aloisi and Craig Foster.

“I don’t know what they’re saying,” Arnold responded.

The Socceroos coach has enough on his plate.

“I haven‘t slept for a long time, wanting it that much,” Arnold said.

“And it‘s not for me, it’s for the nation. Two wins [at World Cups] in 17 games. I want to put a smile on Australian faces. It’s not about me at all. If it was about me I probably would have left ages ago.”

THE VERDICT

ADAM PEACOCK: Australia 1-0. Control emotions, and control the tempo. Do that and the Socceroos can keep Round of 16 hopes alive. It will be tight, and difficult. The Tunisians will leave everything on the pitch, but a moment of brilliance from Hrustic to win it for Australia.

JOE BARTON: Australia 2-1. Australia will bounce back – and find a way to break down a Tunisian side that defended superbly to a draw with Denmark. Crowd was a factor there, but Australia can take them out of the equation with an early goal.

Originally published as FIFA World Cup 2022: Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has been forced to make a late injury-enforced change ahead of crucial Tunisia clash

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