What’s next for Australia after the World Cup?

DOHA, Qatar (AP) – Australia’s World Cup adventure came to an end against a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina. A 2-1 defeat at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium equaled their best performance yet at football’s biggest tournament by reaching the round of 16 for the second time in its history.

EXPECTATION VS. PERFOMANCE

Drawn in Group D against holders France and Euro 2020 semi-finalists Denmark, the Socceroos had a tough task just to reach the last 16. A 4-1 loss to France in the opening game was a worrying start.

Back-to-back victories over Tunisia and Denmark gave Australia their highest points tally in a group stage and continued their 2006 performance by qualifying for the knockout rounds.

Few would have expected Australia to get past Argentina but it gave Messi and company a real scare with a late comeback on Saturday.

“Everyone said before we came here that we were the worst Socceroo team to ever qualify for a World Cup, but that’s over now,” said coach Graham Arnold.

WHO IS OUT?

Arnold’s contract is up and his future is uncertain.

“I need a break, a break and I’m sure I’ll have some good talks with the organization,” he said after the game.

Six of the players who featured for Australia against Argentina are in their 30s, with Aaron Mooy being the oldest at 32.

Mitchell Duke, who scored the winner against Tunisia, is 31, as is Matthew Leckie, who scored against Denmark.

It remains to be seen how many of these there will be in four years.

WHO’S NEXT?

At 18 years and 79 days, Garang Kuol became the youngest player to appear in a World Cup knockout game since Pele in 1958.

And the teenager, who joined Premier League side Newcastle in January, was close to making himself an Aussie hero when he forced Argentina goalkeeper Emi Martinez to make a late save.

Stoke defender Harry Souttar, 24, could also have a bright future after bolstering his reputation with impressive performances at the World Cup.

Arnold used his post-game press conference to advocate for a national football development center in Australia to produce more top-class players.

“We need to spend money and get help from the government to put some money into the game to support children’s development,” he said. “One thing I would really like to see before I quit football is the government build us a house. We have no home. We’ve been homeless since I’ve been involved with the national teams for 37 years.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Australia have a quick chance to build on their World Cup success when they return to Qatar for the 2023 Asian Cup.

It won the tournament in 2015 but will face stiff competition as Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia also qualify.

The performances of these nations, along with Australia, at the World Cup are a testament to the growing strength of football in the region.

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James Robson can be found at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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