‘We’ve done nothing’: Arnold tells Australia to focus after Tunisia victory

Graham Arnold praised the Socceroos for winning Australia’s first World Cup match in 12 years but put a lid on celebrations, stating they had “done nothing” yet before Wednesday’s decisive final group fixture against Denmark.

The coach also bit back at critics, including former national team players, who have repeatedly questioned his selections and tactics, saying “they have no effect on my life”.

Australia recovered from their opening 4-1 loss to France in emphatic fashion on Saturday, scoring early against Tunisia and protecting the 1-0 lead until the end. It was their first finals victory since defeating Serbia in 2010 and only the third after the 3-1 win against Japan in 2006.

“It’s the first clean sheet we’ve held at a World Cup since 1974, which is crazy,” Arnold said. “But it’s just one game. Today obviously the opposition wasn’t as good as the world champions but I felt that our performance, our fight and our grit and determination – the old Aussie way – was very important.”

Australia outplayed Tunisia in a frenetic and physical first half in front of 40,000 mainly Tunisian supporters, outmuscling the same team that held 10th-ranked Denmark to a scoreless draw on Tuesday.

The grit paid off in the 23rd minute when Mitchell Duke headed home a cross from Craig Goodwin, before the defender Harry Souttar led the desperate second-half defence. The Tunisia coach, Jalel Kadri, said: “During the first half, we did not perform the way we wanted to, Australia led us into playing a style we did not like. They dominated the game, created one chance and scored and unfortunately we could not equalise.

“We changed tactics two or three times in the second half and created four or five chances but we were not clinical enough. They were very efficient in converting their chance.”

The result keeps the Socceroos in the hunt to reach the last 16 for the first time since the golden generation did so in 2006. But Arnold, while acknowledging the historic achievement, said all the focus was on Denmark. “I just said to them that the nation is extremely proud, but we’ve done nothing,” Arnold said. “You’ve achieved something we can talk about after the tournament, but we are here to go as far as we can go.

“I don’t want any celebration. Just enjoy this couple of minutes with the Australian fans here in the stadium then get yourself in the dressing room, ice baths, recover, and get ready for the next one. I don’t want them sitting up all night looking at social media. It’s about getting sleep, recovering well and being ready in the morning.”

The win doubled as a statement for Arnold, who has polarised the nation since he took over from Bert van Marwijk after Russia 2018. The 59-year-old has previously put on a casual public front in the face of his critics, who include some former Australia players, but this time there was a bite to his tone. “Who cares? They’ve never coached,” Arnold said. “I haven’t seen who was critical. Some of them have never even been to a World Cup. I don’t listen to them. They have no effect on my life.”