By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia are not just going to next year’s Copa America to make up the numbers and will be looking to “shock the world” by beating co-hosts Argentina on the way to reaching the quarter-finals, coach Graham Arnold said on Wednesday.
Australia, who will make their debut at the South American continental championship as one of two invited guest sides, were on Tuesday drawn in Argentina’s Group A alongside Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile.
The Socceroos, No. 42 in the FIFA rankings, were eliminated in the group phase at the last three World Cups and had their Asian Cup title defence ended in the quarter-finals in January but Arnold is aiming high at the Copa America.
“We’ve got Argentina lined up in our sights,” he told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday.
“I never coach a team to go out there and have any mentality other than them winning the game.
“And nothing will be different … Why can’t we go out and shock the world and beat Argentina in their own country? That’s the purpose and the expectations.”
Australia are one of two invited sides to the 12-team tournament held from June 12-July 12 along with 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar.
Australia’s last brush with Argentina was at the 2008 Beijing Olympics where an Arnold-coached side were beaten 1-0 by the Lionel Messi-inspired champions in the group phase.
Australia lost a 2007 friendly 1-0 to Argentina in front of a crowd of 70,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and were beaten 4-2 by the South Americans at the 2005 Confederations Cup.
Australia have had their moments, though, upsetting Argentina 4-1 on home soil at a one-off 1988 tournament to celebrate the bicentennial of the country’s first settlement.
They also pushed an Argentina side captained by Diego Maradona in a tense qualifying playoff for the 1994 World Cup, losing 2-1 on aggregate.
“We go there with great hopes and very good stats against them and we’re looking forward to playing them,” added Arnold.
The top four sides in both groups qualify for the quarter-finals.
Despite lacking a top-tier striker, Arnold has fashioned the Socceroos into an attacking team and he said his players would not be cowed by the reputations of players like Messi at the tournament.
“They know they belong on the same field as them and that’s the main thing,” said the 56-year-old.
“When you believe in something so strong then you can create miracles.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)