Is it four years already? Once again we’ve embarked on the long haul to the World Cup through Asia, and once again we’ve started with a win. But this effort was a lot more convincing than the plodding 2 -1 win over Kyrgyzstan that kicked off the last campaign.
On a hot night in Kuwait City the Socceroos harried and pressed the opposition like it was six degrees in Melbourne, and it paid off handsomely with two in the bag after half an hour and the game effectively over. Aaron Mooy’s first time curler from outside the box was the cherry on top of a thoroughly professional first half.
There was a lot to like, despite the lowly ranking of the opposition, who had plenty of momentum after a seven nil win over Nepal. The team played like a typical Arnie team with the ball – 4,2,3,1 with overlapping fullbacks. But without the ball they were frequently more like a 2,2,3,3 and chased the ball relentlessly.
This kind of tactic relies on a lot of discipline and communication, but also speed, and Arnie’s team has that in abundance. Leckie, Borello, Taggart, Irvine, Jeggo, Grant are all speedsters and they really made it count – constantly winning back possession and getting the ball back to Mooy to start yet another foray.
We should’ve had more goals though. I was happy enough with Taggart’s work in the box but he should have taken at least one of the first half chances he had, and a better first touch to Mooy’s glorious slide-rule pass in the second half would have seen him one on one. Hopefully it’s just a matter of getting the first and the floodgates will open for him as they have in South Korea.
I was impressed with Borello and Jeggo – two very sharp performances. Borello was always looking to create and worked a lot of nice patterns with Behich and Mooy. Jeggo was commanding in the midfield sweeping role – covering a lot more ground than we were used to seeing from both Jedinak and Milligan. I suspect there’s going to be quite a tussle for starting places going forward between Jeggo, Irvine, Luongo and Armini – not least as Tom Rogic is yet to return and you’d think he and Mooy have at least two places locked in when fit.
Both Jeggo and Irvine would be very hard to drop after that performance so, the fact we also have Daniel Arzani and Martin Boyle to come back makes for some serious selection headaches – with the hope that quality pushing quality can only bode well for the fans.
If there were any concerns – I think Trent Sainsbury just needs some regular football. His timing and passing looked a little out at times but he’s a superb player so ought to come good.
It was also noticeable that we stopped using the midfield at times, in both halves. I don’t know whether that was through tiredness in the heat, or due to instruction – to sit back and have a rest at crucial moments – but it does my head in to see us holding possession at the back with apparent patience, and then suddenly lump it forward to no-one. We did a lot of that after the second goal, and struggled to keep possession for a fair while after half time, and a better team may have made us pay for that. As it was Mat Ryan made a world class save at a time when a Kuwaiti goal might really have got their tails up.
It seems to me that, when you have a player of Aaron Mooy’s quality in the middle, Plan A for the back five is surely to find his feet at every opportunity. He was (to my mind) the best on pitch – slightly ahead of Jackson Irvine – and pulled the reins brilliantly. Especially when he changed places with Irvine in the last 20 minutes and played a number of gorgeous passes that were not finished off as they deserved.
Late appearances for Awer Mabil, Apo Giannou and Musti Amini did not further trouble the scorers although Mabil might have done better with an outstanding 40 metre pass from Mooy that put him one on one with the keeper. Mabil and Arzani are likely to fight out the one spot for a while but it would be fun to see them both on the pitch at once.
In the end, the team settled for a comfortable win and were too fast, too strong and just far too good for Kuwait, which makes a pleasant change from the gutsy close shaves we’ve so often seen in the searing Middle East. A cool night on a slick pitch in Australia might see the goal difference our gulf in quality deserved.
It’s just a shame we didn’t play a Spanish speaking country in our first game as my clever headline would then have made more sense. But Aaron Mooy was outstanding last night, in any language, and keeping him fit for the tougher games ahead is the key to us going to Qatar.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets and will have a couple of exciting announcements shortly.