Graham Arnold has achieved what many felt was impossible – qualifying for the round of 16 at the Qatar World Cup.
The Socceroos boss, who took over in 2018, has long had critics calling for his head – but he is used to the criticism and has now well and truly risen above it.
It is certainly nothing new for the man who wears his heart on his sleeve and backs his players to the tilt.
Few gave Australia a chance in the Middle East, and after being outclassed 4-1 by France in their group opener, the knives were out.
But Arnold – as he so often does – didn’t waiver in his belief that his side could do something special.
Graham Arnold (pictured celebrating after beating Denmark) has silenced his critics once and for all after qualifying for the Qatar World Cup’s round of 16
Mat Leckie’s goal on the hour mark sealed a gritty 1-0 win over the highly fancied Danes at the Al Janoub Stadium
Les Blues – the last World Cup winners – are a formidable outfit, and superstar Kylian Mbappe was virtually impossible to contain.
Just ask Nathaniel Atkinson, the Tasmanian born defender is still having nightmares after his brutal football lesson.
Next was Tunisia, a fixture many Socceroos fans felt was the best chance to get a result.
Mitch Duke did the rest, his glancing header was the difference and all of a sudden, the knockers were eating their words.
But surely Australia would be exposed by Denmark, who are 10th on FIFA’s world rankings and had Manchester United’s Christian Eriksen as their talisman.
Arnold’s tactics were again spot on, with Mat Leckie’s goal on the counter sealing another gritty 1-0 win.
And all this was masterminded by a bloke who was fined $25,000 in March by Football Australia for breaching Covid self-isolation protocols.
His crime, you ask?
Australia’s Milos Degenek and Aaron Mooy celebrate qualifying the round of 16 in Qatar
Victory over Denmark may well be Arnold’s greatest ever triumph in his decorated coaching career
Walking his dog at Narrabeen on Sydney’s northern beaches.
Arnold was dobbed in by a member of the public, and rather than shake his head, he copped the whopping fine and moved on.
‘I sincerely apologise for my error of judgment,’ the coach said in a statement.
‘I accept that I should not have left my home as per the NSW self-isolation protocols and will remain at my property until my self-isolation window concludes.
‘I also accept the sanctions that come because of this error.’
Can you imagine England coach Gareth Southgate copping the same treatment?
Arnold celebrates with wife Sarah after qualifying for the knockout stages in Qatar
Arnold has the current crop of Socceroos believing in themselves – and results have followed
Australia’s road to Qatar was no walk in the park.
A total of 20 qualifying games, the Socceroos did it the hard way.
UAE was the first obstacle to overcome in Doha, with a late Ajdin Hrustic winner crucial.
A few days later on June 14, Peru stood in Australia’s way when it came to qualifying for a fifth successive World Cup – and once again, many of Arnold’s critics were desperate to see him fail.
Well aware if Australia didn’t feature in Qatar his tenure was over, Arnold produced a masterstroke.
Some called it brave, others felt he had lost his mind.
He introduced journeyman goalkeeper Andrew ‘ the Grey Wiggle’ Redmayne in a bid to unsettle the Peruvians – and it paid off deluxe in the penalty shootout.
Arnold prides himself on being a players coach – and his squad have bought into his mentality (pictured, striker Mitchell Duke)
Few gave Australia a chance to topple the more fancied Denmark – but Arnold threw the form book out the window (pictured, at fulltime)
But even after qualifying for Qatar, Australia were tipped by many ‘experts’ to be cannon fodder.
No stars they groaned, the ‘Golden Generation’ from 2006 were miles better.
History now shows the class of 2022 have matched the squad featuring the likes of Harry Kewell, Lucas Neill, Marco Bresciano and John Aloisi by getting out of their group.
A Daily Mail Australia investigation pre the clash with Les Blues asked if commuters at Wynyard in Sydney’s CBD could name the current crop of stars.
Not one person was able to name more than three members from the 2022 team.
It really was a case of the Soccerwhos.
Arnold – who is also the first coach to guide Australia to back to back wins in the group stage – will now surely be given the credit he deserves.
A two-time A-League winner as a coach, he can name his price – or destination – beyond Qatar.
Not bad for a bloke overseeing Australia’s ‘worst ever’ World Cup squad.