Melbourne Victory coach Tony Popovic has thrown his support behind Graham Arnold to lead Australia through the World Cup play-offs after Football Australia decided not to swing the axe on the under-fire Socceroos coach.

Socceroos under-fire coach

  • Speculation of Socceroos head coach being axed arose after the team failed to automatically qualify for the World Cup.
  • Qualification is still possible through the play-offs.
  • Melbourne Victory coach Tony Popovic has put his support behind Graham Arnold.

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Speculation had been mounting Arnold could be sacked after failing to secure direct qualification to Qatar with the Socceroos.

Football Australia has instead given Arnold, who is contracted until after this year's World Cup, a reprieve to lead Australia in the play-offs.

"We've got to get behind the national team, we've got to get behind Graham," Popovic said at Thursday's announcement that Melbourne Victory will play Manchester United in July.

"We're in the play-offs. We've been there before, we're there again.

"We're two games away from making a World Cup and the whole focus needs to be around supporting the national team and supporting the coach."

Popovic's name has previously been raised as a potential candidate as the next Socceroos boss, but he wouldn't be drawn on his interest in the role.

He also stressed Australia could yet prevail in their two sudden-death play-off matches.

Australia will take on the United Arab Emirates, who finished third in group A, in Doha on June 7.

The winner of that one-off match will take on Peru in Qatar a week later for a spot in the World Cup.

"I don't think that's a discussion, not really. Graham Arnold's the Socceroos coach and I said this the other day, we've got to respect that he's the coach," Popovic said.

"Our focus should be on supporting the team to make the World Cup. Why can't we make the World Cup? We've got to get through UAE and then it's another one-off game.

"It's not home and away it's a one-off game. Anything can happen in a one-off match and we've got to be positive that we can get the job done."

Australia have won just one of their past seven World Cup qualifying matches under Arnold, including costly draws against China and Oman, but chairman Chris Nikou cited a need for stability before the playoffs.

"The board of Football Australia believed it was important that we provided a stable environment and to get on with planning for the play-off phase given the very short turn-around," Nikou said in a statement.

"By confirming that Graham will remain head coach of the Socceroos until the completion of our FIFA World Cup campaign, it enables Graham, his support staff and the playing group to move forward with certainty, and without delay, to ensure the best possible preparation for the next phase of qualification."

FA chief executive James Johnson was in Jeddah for Australia's 1-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia and will travel with Arnold to Doha for Friday's World Cup draw, after committing to allowing the coach to "finish the job he was appointed to in 2018".


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