The Socceroos were once again heavily adjusted for a match which was expected to be their seventh victory in as many games in this stage of the road to Qatar. Despite the Nepalese putting up a strong fight with heavy challenges and gutsy pressing, it was in fact the favourites who prevailed in this hard-fought encounter.
Australia continued the theme that has preluded them, scoring within the first 15 minutes to take the lead for the seventh time in seven games, through a gorgeously whipped ball from ex-Melbourne Heart player Aziz Behich to Melbourne City’s newest arrival, Mathew Leckie. The strong header was more than enough to see the Nepal goalkeeper slip and watch joylessly as the ball rippled the back of the net.
The next 30 minutes of play portrayed a Socceroos team who were looking to perfect their structure, going forward with care most of the time, but not afraid to reset play when the pressure became too hot to handle. On a pitch which a seasoned rugby field would best, the ball bounced and bobbled its way to the shins of each Australian player, who had to find their way to bring it down purposefully.
However, this did not stop goal scorer Leckie from skipping past his man and cutting back an inch-perfect pass to Croatian born Fran Karacic for his first goal in the green and gold. The expertly placed finish was met with a flurry of Socceroo celebrants, getting around the 25-year-old for his first international goal, for a country he is yet to step foot in.
Shortly after the 38th minute goal, Leckie played Martin Boyle through on goal, only for the Hibernian man to be brought down by a slight touch from Rohit Chand of Nepal. Chand was shown the red card for his challenge, which made the night considerably more difficult for the Nepalese squad.
Another goal 12 minutes into the second half ensured the Socceroos win as absolute, as Boyle made a smart run to get on the end of a curling pass from fellow Hibernian Jackson Irvine in the six-yard box. The tap in was all she wrote on a scoring front, as the match finished 3-0. However, due to the abundance of chances, it could have been more; goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong surely proving his monopoly of the goalkeeper spot for Nepal.
Olympics-bound Connor Metcalfe was in pure control of the defensive midfield position, cleanly winning the ball on multiple occasions, orchestrating the return of the ball to the forward players in practiced style. Alongside Irvine, the two looked to have the ball on a string, with Metcalfe almost getting on the scoresheet late on if it wasn’t for the dedication of Chemjong in goal.
In a game which saw Laurence Thomas make his debut at the age of 29, coming on for Andrew Redmayne late in the second half, the Aussies made simple work of their Nepalese opponents in the end. In a great hit out before their last and arguably the toughest game against Jordan, coach Graham Arnold will look at bringing out his strongest side now that the squad has been considerably rotated over the past three games.
If the Socceroos are to beat Jordan, it will have to be more convincing and ruthless of a display. Nevertheless, this was a match which secured top place for the Australian outfit, and a top seed for the next round of qualification – moving towards a hopeful qualification to Qatar 2022.