The headline fixture is a Lionel Messi-led Argentina, at either the famous ground of Boca Juniors (La Bombonera) or River Plate (El Monumental) in Buenos Aires. The four undercard games are also against nations that will be right at home in the ‘land of silver’.
The match against Uruguay in Cordoba may as well be in Montevideo. If the 2011 Copa America in Argentina is any pointer, tens of thousands of Uruguayans will traverse the Rio de la Plata to support their side. Australia then face Bolivia and Paraguay – Argentina’s two largest sources of immigrants. Close to 350,000 Argentinian residents were born in Paraguay and more than a million people in Argentina were either born in Bolivia or have ancestors from the Andean nation. Australia’s final game is against Argentina’s parochial neighbours, Chile, whose fans are known for travelling in droves.
“It’s just a privilege to be invited to this tournament,” Arnold said. “This group of players, close to none of them have had the wonderful experience of playing in a very different football culture of South America.”
Arnold was quietly celebrating a draw that boosts the Socceroos’ seemingly faint hopes of progressing to the second round. They avoided the group hosted by the tropical and mountainous Colombia and comprised of teams accustomed to those conditions. The capital, Bogota, is 2600m above sea level. The costal city of Barranquilla will be warmer than 30 degrees and at the start of its wet season, while the cities of Cali and Medellin combine heat, humidity and altitude. The Argentinian winter could not be more welcome.
“It is going to be better for us because it’s winter here in Australia at the same time. The boys in Europe are used to playing in the cold, so it is going to suit us better,” Arnold said.
As advantages go, however, it is only slight. Australia still face three of the world’s top 20 nations and form doesn’t favour invited teams in the Copa America. Never has a guest nation left South America with the continent’s biggest prize, and few fancy the Socceroos or Qatar to change that next year. With half an eye on the World Cup qualifiers, the true value for Arnold is the education and exposure for his players. If they survive football’s harshest continent, Asia suddenly won’t seem as hard.
“It’s fantastic. It’ll be a great experience for all the players, staff, fans, the whole country,” he said. “To be able to go to the Copa American and give people the experience of tough competitions against top players and such a prestigious tournament is going to be great for the next phase of our World Cup qualifiers.”