Andrew Redmayne’s penalty shoot-out gyrations stole the headlines as the Socceroos pipped Peru to clinch a fifth successive World Cup spot.
But beyond the Grey Wiggle’s goal-line World Cup qualifying gallivanting, and the audacious decision by Socceroos head coach Graham Arnold to introduce the bearded keeper for penalties in Doha last week in place of skipper Mat Ryan, lies another Arnold masterstroke.
ARNOLD'S MASTERPLAN MORE THAN JUST REDMAYNE
- Qualifying for the World Cup wasn't just about coach Graham Arnold's big Andrew Redmayne call.
- The Socceroos chief and his assistant Rene Meulensteen concocted another brave gambit which ended a run of poor form and clinched a spot at Qatar 2022.
- A change was needed at the back and Arnold showed no sentimentality as he cleared the decks to bring in Kye Rowles and Bailey Wright to stunning effect.
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The Redmayne call wasn’t the only big one cooked up by a coach who desperately needed a circuit breaker after a grim one win in seven games leading into sudden-death deciders against UAE and Peru.
Just as Arnold kept the Redmayne rouse strictly between himself, goalkeeping coach John Crawley and assistant Rene Meulensteen, he also maintained a cone of secrecy around a plot to replace both his centre-backs for the playoffs.
Co-conspirator and ex-Manchester United assistant Meulensteen takes up the story.
“One thing that never wavered was the belief we knew the boys could pull it off - but a huge thing a lot of people missed was the massive call regarding the centre-backs,” the Dutchman told FTBL.
“For me, it was the biggest call of all. If you look at it, how well Bailey Wright and Kye Rowles slipped into their roles was really unbelievable.
“Even within the camp, I think there might have been staff members who were probably scratching their heads and thinking ‘well, what’s going on here’? (when uncapped Rowles and rarely-used Wright stepped in ahead of the experienced Trent Sainsbury and Milos Degenek)
“Arnie and I had a discussion and decided we didn’t need to share this with that many people. The most important thing was that we believed in it, and knew it was the right thing to do.
“Sometimes fortune favours the brave. We felt we had to do something because there were a few issues we needed to address in terms of staying better connected from the back line into midfield, and being able to open up quicker and rotate the ball better.”
Almost an ever-present, Sainsbury picked up a knock and was ineligible to face UAE, though he was most likely not starting anyway.
“Trent knew he wasn’t at his best and sometimes managers have to make big decisions,” continued Meulensteen.
“No player is assured of a place In the starting lineup, especially when the stats aren’t necessarily on your side.
“We only had one shot at this - ultimately it was the head of the coach on the line and it was clear that we had to do something.
“Regarding Milos, it wasn’t that he was very poor or had struggled. But he’d only played one game recently for his new club before joining our camp in Qatar.
“So we made the call and both Kye and Bailey did brilliantly.
“Bailey brings massive leadership qualities and had just come off the back of helping Sunderland win promotion to the Championship.
“Kye didn’t put a foot wrong and has grown with every game. For him to perform with such poise and assurance in one of the biggest matches in recent Australian football history is huge credit to him.”
Nursing Aaron Mooy to fitness - despite not playing a competitive game since February - was also key, contends Meulensteen.
“We invested a lot of time getting Aaron back and he deserves a medal for how he performed in both playoffs,” he added.
“We worked hard to convince him to buy into everything we were doing and we showed how serious we were by sending (conditioning guru) Andrew Clark to work with him in Scotland.
“We were thinking if we could get 35 minutes out of him it would be brilliant.
“But for him to play 90 minutes against UAE and 120 against Peru, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was truly amazing.”
Other than the big switch between Ryan and Redmayne, Meulensteen revealed that nothing was left to chance ahead of the shootout against Peru, with each penalty taker painstakingly selected.
“We were fully prepared for that eventuality,” he said. “Arnie left it to me during training sessions and after the final whistle of the game against Peru we knew what the script would be.
“You have to make sure you have most of your best penalty takers on the pitch after 120 minutes and we made sure that we did.
“People say penalties is a lottery - I say nonsense. You need to take that lottery element away by telling the players ‘we’re prepared for this’. This is the order and they all know what to do.
“You have to make sure they stay very cool and calm and stay in the zone.
“With Redmayne, we knew he was a good shot-stopper in these type of situations.
“So this was our trump card and we just needed to be brave enough to play it.
“Redders is an imposing figure on the goal-line.
“You stick Redders in there with his beard and his flapping arms and he will put people off. That’s what we hoped for and that’s what happened.”
Asked what impact Australia might make in Qatar in November-December, where they face France, Denmark and Tunisia in Group D, Meulensteen replied: “You can get success of the World Cup in many different ways. Of course we want to do well, win games and progress out of the group stage, which will be a challenge.
“However, for me, I would like people to turn round after the games we play and say ‘hey, did you see Australia play? They were fantastic’.”
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