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Australia’s World Cup hopes hit as coach tests positive for COVID

SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia suffered a major setback yesterday ahead of their must-win World Cup qualifier against Japan next week with coach Graham Arnold testing positive for COVID-19.

Australia were already missing star playmaker Aaron Mooy after he too tested positive and was ruled out of the clash in Sydney on March 24.

Arnold took a PCR test on Thursday ahead of his arrival in the team camp, with the result meaning he needs to self-isolate for seven days.

As long as he tests negative on the day of the match, the 58-year-old would be out in time to be on the sidelines.

“Until his period of self-isolation concludes, Arnold will remain connected to Australia’s squad and staff digitally,” Football Australia said.

The Socceroos meet four-time Asian champions Japan ahead of a showdown with Saudi Arabia in Jeddah five days later.

They need to win both matches to ensure automatic qualification for the World Cup in Qatar later this year. Japan will book their spot if they beat the Socceroos.

Australia are three points adrift of Japan, with first-placed Saudi Arabia a further point ahead in Asian Group B.

Regardless of the results, Australia are guaranteed to finish at least third and move to a play-off against the third-placed team in Asian Group A.

Australia’s head coach Graham Arnold. PHOTO: AP