Arnold takes positives from first friendly as U-23’s continue crucial camp

Australian U-23 National Team Head Coach Graham Arnold said his squad could take plenty of positives away from their friendly against Malaysian top-flight side Petaling Jaya City FC on Thursday evening, despite incurring a 2-0 defeat. 

In oppressive conditions in Shah Alam close to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, Australia’s youngsters were edged on the scoreboard, but not on the balance of play, in what was their first match together abroad.

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Arnold revealed many of his players had lost between four and five kilos during the fixture, underlining just how crucial acclimatising to the humid conditions southeast Asia has to offer is for the squad ahead of next week’s 2020 AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers in Cambodia. 

“Thursday’s match against a senior Malaysian top-flight side and our week together in Malaysia is absolutely invaluable ahead of next week’s qualifiers in Cambodia,” Arnold explained.

Graham Arnold
Graham Arnold is in charge of the Australian Under 23s

“For many of the players in the squad this week represents the first time that they have played in southeast Asia, so learning to adjust to the tough conditions that they will be playing in is paramount.

“We dominated many areas of Thursday’s game and hit the woodwork numerous times, so there were plenty of positives to take from the contest, particularly given the brief preparation that the players have had over the past few days,” he said. 

Australia will play another vital friendly on Sunday evening against Malaysia’s U-23 National Team before shifting to Phnom Penh on Tuesday, where three games in just five days awaits.

In Phnom Penh Australia will play Cambodia (March 22), Chinese Taipei (March 24), and Korea Republic (March 26). 

Australia will qualify for the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship should the team finish in first place in Group H in Cambodia, or emerge as one of the four best second-placed teams in qualifying.

The fifth-best second-placed team from the 11 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) groups will also qualify should Thailand – who have qualified automatically for the tournament as hosts – finish as either Group K winners or runners-up.

“We are one of the unseeded teams for this phase of qualifying,” Arnold continued. “This group are desperate to reach the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship in Thailand and are determined to become the first men’s football team to qualify for the Summer Olympics since 2008.

“I know our boys can achieve their goal, but they need time together to gel and learn about the demands of international football which is why this pre-camp leading up to Cambodia is so important,” he said. 

Upcoming Matches | Australia U-23 National Team

Australia U-23 v Cambodia U-23 (2020 AFC U-23 Championship Qualification – Group H)
Date: Friday, 22 March 2019
Venue: Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Kick-off: 8.00pm (local); 12.00am (AEDT) +1

Chinese Taipei U-23 v Australia U-23 (2020 AFC U-23 Championship Qualification – Group H)
Date: Sunday, 24 March 2019
Venue: Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Kick-off: 5.00pm (local); 9.00pm (AEDT)

Korea Republic U-23 v Australia U-23 (2020 AFC U-23 Championship Qualification – Group H)
Date: Tuesday, 26 March 2019
Venue: Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Kick-off: 5.00pm (local); 9.00pm (AEDT)