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FIFA World Cup qualifiers

Australia trying to focus only on football for Palestine game – Arnold

Australia coach Graham Arnold said it has been “quite stressful” preparing to play Palestine next week against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas conflict, but hopes football can bring some joy.

The Socceroos head into the 2026 World Cup qualifier in Kuwait on Tuesday in early control of Group I after thumping Bangladesh 7-0 in Melbourne.

Lebanon and Palestine drew 0-0 in the other group match, in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, also on Thursday.

Australia’s game with Palestine was originally set to be played in the West Bank but has been relocated to Kuwait City because of the war.

“With everything that’s going on in the Middle East at the moment it’s been quite stressful for me and just making sure that everything (preparation) is great,” said Arnold.

He called the conflict “horrific” but said his team must focus on football.

“What we do have control over is our performance and playing against Palestine and going out and getting the job done for Australia,” he added.

“Obviously we are very sympathetic for everyone with what’s going on, but again, it’s a game of football and that brings a lot of joy to everybody.”

Leicester City defender Harry Souttar, who opened the scoring against Bangladesh, said the team must be professional in Kuwait and put aside other emotions.

“Obviously we know kind of what’s going on for both sides — it’s horrendous,” he told reporters.

“I’m not going to stand here and give a political view but all I can say is we will be going into that focusing on purely the game and nothing else.

“We know that Palestine are going to be right up for it. We know that they’re going to be playing for a lot more than just football.

“But we’re there to get a result and get a job done.”

Australia are targeting a sixth consecutive World Cup, having made the last 16 at Qatar in 2022.

A record eight direct spots and one intercontinental playoff berth are at stake for Asian Football Confederation sides, from nine groups of four. 

The top two from each group go through to the final Asian qualifying round.

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