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Australia to play Ecuador in World Cup homecoming

Canberra, March 2 (IANS) Australians will have the chance to welcome the country’s World Cup heroes when the Socceroos host Ecuador for two friendlies in March.

Football Australia (FA) announced on Thursday that the Socceroos will play Ecuador in Sydney on March 24 and in Melbourne on March 28 as a “Welcome Home” series.

The Socceroos made history by winning two games at a World Cup for the first time in Qatar and reaching the round of 16 for the second time, sparking scenes of jubilation across the country.

The March international window is the first opportunity much of the squad has had to return to Australia since the World Cup, with most going straight back to their club sides around the world following the Round of 16 defeat to Argentina, a Xinhua report said.

Coach Graham Arnold, who in January signed a new four-year contract, said the games against 41st-ranked Ecuador were an opportunity to celebrate the squad’s achievements in Qatar.

“It’s fantastic we get this opportunity to gather again as a squad and reflect upon what we achieved at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar,” he said in a media release.

“Throughout the FIFA World Cup, we saw the incredible support the team was receiving back in Australia, and we are very much looking forward to finally celebrating together.”

Arnold said that he plans to reward the 26 members of the World Cup squad for the window but that his priority is preparing for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup and 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

James Johnson, chief executive of FA, said regularly playing higher-ranked opposition would be key to the future success of the Socceroos.

“Part of creating the right environment for national team success for us means replicating tournament football by playing higher-ranked opponents and world-class teams on a more regular basis,” he said.

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