In March last year Graham Arnold seemed a dead man walking – the Socceroos World Cup qualification campaign was lurching towards failure and the manager was being battered from all sides. Arnold’s team had finished seven points off automatic qualification for Qatar after a shocking run of one win in seven games left them facing an Asian playoff against United Arab Emirates and then another against Peru to make the finals. While rumours swirled and ex-players and fans bayed for his blood, Football Australia took the pragmatic course and stuck by Arnold. On Tuesday, FA CEO James Johnson, who held firm on Arnold 20 months ago, congratulated the coach on his impending record-breaking match against Bangladesh as 2026 World Cup qualifying starts on Thursday. Arnold, in his second stint as national team manager, will prowl the technical area for a 59th time on Thursday, taking him clear of Frank Farina. In my opinion, there’s no greater honor than representing your nation on the international stage. I look at the young players coming through the Socceroos system now full of pride in the work they’ve put in to get where they are, and the journey that’s ahead of them. “I’ve always loved being a part of the Socceroos culture and my desire to see Australia fulfill its footballing potential is still driving me to take this group to further success.” Australia starts the road to north America in Melbourne at AAMI Park on Thursday night, before traveling to the Middle East to play Palestine next Wednesday (1.00am AEDT). For this stage of qualifiers, there are nine groups of four teams, with Lebanon the other team in Group I. The top two teams from each group will advance into three groups of six for the next stage. The top two from those games – from September 2024 to June 2025 – will directly advance to the playoffs with another qualifying round to determine the seventh and eight direct qualifiers.