With win over Kuwait, Socceroos set table for a strong campaign to come

Cruising to a comfortable 3-0 win over Kuwait on Friday morning, the Socceroos not only scored a deserved victory but also set themselves up to put in even stronger performances in the months to come.

There have been few around the world that have had to wait longer to see their side return to international action than Socceroos’ fans, but their patience was duly rewarded within 120 seconds of their 3-0 win over Kuwait on Friday morning.

Cutting off Kuwait’s attempt to clear an Ajdin Hrustic corner, Fran Karacic turned and, with all bar one of his opponents clustered around the penalty area to defend, switched play to Aziz Behich with time on the left.

Able to square up, the Australian left-back lofted a ball back to the top of the six-yard-box towards Mathew Leckie who rose between the haphazard efforts of defenders Shabib Al Khaldi and Fahad Al Hajeri to bury a powerful header beyond keeper Sulaiman Abdulghafoor.

1-0 Australia and, after 567 days, coach Graham Arnold’s Socceroos couldn’t have asked for a better return to competitive action.

“We prepared the team for certain scenarios and that goal in the first minute gave us a scenario that is difficult,” Kuwait’s coach Andres Carrasco said.

His side well in control throughout the rest of the contest, man-of-the-match Hrustic then won a penalty in the 23rd minute that Martin Boyle had saved only for Jackson Irvine to fire in the rebound.

Hrustic then fired in a pin-point free-kick into the top corner of the net to make it three in the 66th.

“I have a lot of belief in my players,” said Arnold.

“We have a great, talented group of players that are always wanting to work hard. I know we haven’t played a game for 560-odd days but I know that they are such good mates and teammates that it’s like a family.”

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On one level, the win was both a result and performance that absolutely should have, to use one of Arnold’s favourite words, been expected.

Undefeated across their opening four games of their campaign, the Socceroos arrived at Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium 107 places above Kuwait in the FIFA World Rankings and had won the first meeting between the two sides this qualification cycle 3-0.

While the dearth of Australians playing in the “Big Five” leagues of Europe has at this point been covered to exhaustion, the XI that took the field in green and gold still possessed a European pedigree far beyond those in blue — who were mostly drawn from the Kuwait Premier League.

Clearly, there was still some room for improvement despite the comfortable nature of the win: all three of the Socceroos goals came from some variance of a set-piece and there were a few sloppy turnovers — including one that forced Mat Ryan to deny an open look from Al Khaldi in the 62nd minute.

But when the squad has only been together for less than two weeks after a 550+ day absence and the prevailing post-game conversation revolves around the improvements being required to deliver on what could have been a deserved four or five-goal win, it’s hard to declare a game anything other than a success.

“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the boys,” Arnold said.

“Listen, that’s only 20% of what you’re going to get from this team. I expect a big improvement from the players. At times they were a little bit rusty — turned over possession a bit easy. This team is only going to get greater and greater.”

Beyond providing an important psychological boost — the Socceroos avoiding a potentially embarrassing, rust-enforced misstep against a side second in their group — the win also provides significant scope for Arnold across his side’s remaining three games.

Now five points clear atop Group B, the chances of Australia falling from their perch in the remaining few games are now effectively nil. Anything less than three points in coming fixtures against Chinese Taipei and Nepal would represent a major upset; meaning that June 16’s final game of the second phase of qualification against Jordan would arrive with Australia, at a minimum, four points clear.

This will enable Arnold to continue to experiment with and introduce new faces to a squad that he hasn’t been able to get his hands on for 18 months ahead of the significant increase in difficulty that will arrive in the second phase of qualification – when opponents such as Japan, South Korea or Saudi Arabia may be on the menu.

On Friday, international debuts arrived for Fran Karacic, Kenny Dougal and Riley McGree, while Hrustic’s start and goal represented the first in his young international career. Continuing his long recovery from an ACL injury, Chris Ikonomidis entered as a second-half substitute.

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Making a much-anticipated international bow, Karacic threw down a clear challenge to presumptive incumbent Rhyan Grant on the right side of the defence, proving effective in both attack and defence and, in particular, showing a good ability to link up with Hrustic.

Hrustic was even more impressive, showing a level of skill, positivity in positioning and a willingness to take on players that would have made him one of Australia’s standouts even without his free-kick screamer.

Taking advantage of the absence of Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy by filling their creative void with aplomb, the 24-year-old appears poised to become a fixture of the Socceroos in the years ahead.

“When I first brought [Hrustic] into camp, compared to the players he is today, from moving to Groningen in Holland to Eintracht Frankfurt to Germany he’s just a completely different player,” Arnold said.

“I do believe that he’s going to be one of the stars of the future of the new generation.

“He’s got a great work ethic, a great professional kid, a great kid overall and he’s a joy to work with.”

The Socceroos will return to the field next Tuesday when they face Chinese Taipei, who they defeated 7-1 in their last hitout, on Tuesday morning AEST.

A host of players unavailable to play against the Kuwaitis due to either minor niggles or their late arrival into training camp, Arnold will likely swing a significant number of changes for that contest.

Jamie Maclaren, Trent Sainsbury and Nikita Rukavytsya are all possible veteran additions and the likes of Denis Genreau, Connor Metcalfe and Ruon Tongyik contenders to make their debuts.

“I didn’t bring 31 players for them to sit up in the grandstand,” the Socceroos’ boss said.

“I haven’t been able to work with the players for 18 months. This is the perfect few weeks to get the boys together and build the team again, to rebuild the team.”

Enjoying Joey’s coverage of Australian sport? Your support helps keep it possible.
You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

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Header Image Credit: Fox Sports

One thought on “With win over Kuwait, Socceroos set table for a strong campaign to come

  1. Pingback: Socceroos stars absent, Melbourne City adopting “broader picture” thinking – Joey Lynch

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