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Arnie will always have his critics, but this is his moment to savour

Maybe it was only ever destined to end one way, with the Socceroos qualifying for the World Cup on the back of one of the boldest coaching decisions in the history of Australian sport.

Graham Arnold’s numerous critics can all go and eat crow, as I’m sure Arnie would no doubt be delighted to attest.

I should know. I’ve been one of those critics over the years.

And the difference between someone like him and someone like me is that it’s Arnie who just coached his national team to the World Cup finals. I’m just a guy who sits at a computer and writes about it.

But as someone whose first experience of a Socceroos campaign was when Arnie himself donned the green and gold jersey and lined up against the likes of Canada and Argentina, I can honestly say I never expected Australia to reach the World Cup finals quite like this.

No-one did. Expect maybe Arnie.

Because his decision to replace captain and goalkeeper Mat Ryan with veteran Sydney FC goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne a minute before the final whistle was a stroke of genius.

It would have been deemed an act of madness had the Socceroos gone down in the shootout, but from the second Redmayne set foot on the pitch at Al Rayyan Stadium, it made a peculiar kind of sense.

Because after the Socceroos came from behind to down Peru 5-4 on penalties in Doha, Arnie talked about how introducing Redmayne would affect the Peruvians psychologically.

And he was right.

When veteran defender Luis Advincula stepped up to stare down Redmayne, he faced a goalkeeper who stands four inches taller than the man he replaced.

In a game of fine margins, Advincula’s subsequent attempt to find the furthest corner of the goal only resulted in him hitting the inside of the post.

Andrew Redmayne celebrates

(Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Even before that fateful moment, Redmayne had slyly made his presence felt.

When Craig Goodwin – another substitute – stepped up to take his spot-kick for the Socceroos, a wide camera angle caught Redmayne casually tossing something over the advertising hoardings behind the goal (see the above video).

It was, according to one spectator who was there, the notes on Australia’s penalty takers that Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese had taped to his water bottle.

Redmayne was warned repeatedly by Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic to stay on his line during the shootout, and at one stage it felt like a retake was a distinct possibility.

But having rattled the Peruvians with his size and unique Wiggles-inspired antics, Redmayne did what he was brought on to do and saved Alex Valera’s fifth and final spot kick to dramatically send the Socceroos to the World Cup finals.

Along with, presumably, Graham Arnold.

There’ll be a time to dissect Australia’s disjointed qualification campaign – and it was not lost on anyone that the Socceroos were the better side but failed to score over 120 minutes against the Peruvians – but for now Arnie deserves his moment in the limelight.

More than 50 caps for the Socceroos, two stints as coach and a couple of Olympics campaigns have more than earned him that right.

I hope when Arnie knocked the top off his first beer in celebration he spared a quick thought for his critics – writers like me who have questioned his tactics and team selections and oddly upbeat mantras at various stages of the campaign.

But equally I hope those who’d prefer to silence critics like me remember something key.

We can’t keep looking to countries like Peru and calling them ‘football nations’ without first understanding that critics play a valuable role in their football ecosystems.

If we ever want Australia to become a mature football nation, we must accept that opinions – not always complimentary – are a fundamental part of the game.

And with that, I tip my hat to Graham Arnold.

I may have doubted his methods at times, but he answered his critics – and brought joy to an entire nation – in the greatest way imaginable.

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