Mariners asking fans to unite for ACL
Graham Arnold is asking Australian football fans to put aside club allegiances and get behind the Central Coast Mariners after they became only the third A-League team to reach the knock-out stages of the Asian Champions League.
The Mariners squeezed through to the group stage despite Tuesday's 3-0 home loss to Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol, following in the footsteps of Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets.
Next up could be a meeting with China's Guangzhou Evergrande and former World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi, so the Mariners realise they need all the support they can get.
"It's a fantastic achievement for the smallest club in Australia to get to the last 16 in Asia," Central Coast coach Arnold said.
"We'll work hard now over the next two or three weeks.
"In the next round, we're not just representing Central Coast Mariners, we're representing the A-League and Australia. So hopefully we'll get some Sydney FC supporters up and some Wanderers supporters up and make it a real good football atmosphere here."
Arnold said he had already sounded out Socceroos team manager Gary Moretti over the possibility of a friendly match against the country's home-based internationals during a training camp on the Central Coast next week.
With the A-League season over and a first domestic title in the bag, the manager said his players need a game to keep them competitive.
"I'm going to maybe have to ask a favour of Football Australia," Arnold said.
"The Socceroos are in camp next week and we need a game, so it would be great if we could play the home-based Socceroos in a friendly game next Thursday just to keep us fit and give us some opportunity.
"They need a game, the under-20s need a game. We can accommodate both teams. If they'll help us, that'll be fantastic."
The Mariners will host the first leg of the round of 16 in Gosford on May 15, with the return match a week later.
Media speculation has linked Arnold with a move away from the Mariners but the manager said he is already planning for next season.
The three-month hiatus until the quarter-finals means he can prepare regardless of next month's result.
"I'm very, very happy we've got another four weeks of football and that gets rid of the month of May where we probably weren't doing any football," Arnold said.
"Now our program is perfect for next season with the whole month of June and the first week of July off and then into pre-season."