After a wait no one expected us to endure, the Socceroos have prevailed in a top of the group clash against Kuwait in a World Cup Qualifier. Kicking off at 5am AEST, Australian fans were lively on social media, with the match commencing at 10pm locally. After so long without the Socceroo boys seeing one another, there were questions about whether the team would gel together after only having limited time in camp.
However, it took no longer than 55 seconds for those questions to be answered, as the Socceroos got off to a flier, with captain Mathew Leckie leaping high to guide a lovely header into the bottom left corner. The squad would have no doubt felt calm seeing the ball hit the back of the net that early in the game, which paid dividends as the Socceroos had chance after chance. Ajdin Hrustic poked the ball past a defender in his fourth appearance for the nation, winning a penalty as he was tripped on the follow through in the 22nd minute of the match.
The Hibernian connection was on point, supposedly, as Martin Boyle’s original shot was saved – but gladly his club mate Jackson Irvine was there to smash home the spoils. A few more chances went amiss in the first half, with Aziz Behich certainly wishing to have that chance again after stabbing a volley just wide of the post. Mathew Ryan looked right at ease despite being nothing more than a backup keeper at club football this season, sweeping the final third and rushing oncoming Kuwaiti forwards with confidence and decisiveness.
In a stop-start second half due to free kicks and injuries, Australia rarely let off the gas, despite the uncomfortable conditions. Ajdin Hrustic, who went on to be Player of the Match, stood over the ball from well outside the box, and dispatched a rocket of a free kick, nicking the inside of the post before making its way to the opposite side netting. Showing his top-class quality in the Bundesliga this season, Hrustic made a critical impact in his first start for the Socceroos; which won’t be his last.
The Socceroos have had their years where they have lacked talent, and this morning’s side was limited due to other players coming into the camp late. However, the boys seemed to click well, creating smart passing lanes and multiple attacking points from range, out wide and in the box.
Notably, Riley McGree got the nod in his debut off the bench at only 22. Looking like a “different specimen”, as Graham Arnold stated earlier this week, McGree had a few intricate touches and seems hungry to challenge for a spot in this increasingly talented side. Kenny Dougall also came on for his debut after being the hero for Blackpool, scoring twice at Wembley Stadium at the weekend to push his side up to the EFL Championship in England. Fran Karacic played 90 minutes at right back in his debut for the nation as well, looking to take on Rhyan Grant in that department.
With so many fresh faces, only time will tell who will step up, but it is exciting times for Australian football if the squad continues with this form and style.