Australia manager Graham Arnold lavished praise on his players after the Socceroos bowed out of the FIFA World Cup with a 2-1 loss to Argentina on Saturday.
Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez gave the South American team a 2-0 lead before Craig Goodwin’s shot deflected in off Enzo Fernandez to ensure a frenetic conclusion at Ahmad bin Ali stadium.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the effort everybody gave for me and the nation,” Arnold said. “They were fantastic. It’s been a four-and-a-half years journey. It’s been a tough journey. We think we could have got something more of it.”
Arnold said his players were both happy and frustrated at falling just short of becoming the first Australian team to reach the quarterfinals of football’s showpiece tournament, reports Xinhua.
“They are extremely disappointed,” he said. “It’s not every day you get to play against the third-best team in the world and those types of players. When we came here everyone said we were the worst Socceroos team to qualify for the World Cup.
“That’s changed now. We made the round of 16 for the first time since 2006 and we are the first Australian team to win two World Cup games in a row. The mix of young players and senior boys has worked well.”
Arnold did not hide his admiration for Messi, who was instrumental in his 1000th appearance for club and country.
“He’s incredible. One of the greatest ever,” Arnold said. “We really worked hard not to be in awe of him because of the great player he is. He is remarkable.
“I had the privilege of playing against Diego Maradona and coaching against Messi on a few occasions. They are both wonderful players and Argentina should be so proud and happy that they have players of that calibre.”