Socceroos’ breezy victory maintains unbeaten streak with far sterner tests ahead
Five goals to one with almost 80% possession is a walkover by anyone’s definition, and Australia have almost certainly secured passage to Asia’s third round of World Cup qualification with a sixth consecutive win for the first time in 20 years.
And Tuesday morning was another breezy victory, against a world No 141 nation sitting bottom of Group B with zero points. If not quite as prolific as November’s 7-1 result, it had the added benefit of experimentation with debutants and inexperienced internationals.
It also offered a hint of some of the challenges that might lie in wait en route to Qatar 2022.
One is the unfortunate need to overcome an unaccommodating pitch, an all-too-common interference to fluid play on the continent and one which will undoubtedly continue to be served up over the coming months.
Another is to convert chances when they arrive. The Socceroos are creating them, which left coach Graham Arnold encouraged, but their almost obscene number of shots did not match the scoreline.
Taiwan threw numbers behind the ball and set their much higher-ranked counterparts the task of penetrating. In doing so they denied the Socceroos a goal from open play until the second half, when Mitch Duke had two partly thanks to some fine play from Nikita Rukavytsya.
The first was a study in set-pieces, with two Riley McGree corners finished by defenders Harry Souttar and Trent Sainsbury that sandwiched a Jamie Maclaren penalty. Tawain, for their part, had the goal of the match, their persistence rewarded when Tu-Shao Chieh cut back from the byline for Gao Wei-Jie to side-foot past Danny Vukovic.
There were most certainly bright spots, including more debuts. South Sudan-born defender Ruon Tongyik made and Connor Metcalfe made their bows off the bench after bright A-League seasons with the Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City respectively.
And French-born Denis Genreau’s first start was industrious, McGree’s creative and Kenny Dougall’s deep-lying midfield output promising.
City’s Curtis Good also made his first appearance since his 2014 debut in a friendly against Ecuador, during which he sustained a hip injury that potentially kept him out of the Brazil World Cup and may have even ended his career.
For the first time in some time, depth does not look to be a hugely compromising issue. The streamlined national set-up has the Olyroos under the same coaching staff as their senior counterparts, and the country’s young talent appear better prepared for it.
“It was an opportunity to give young players a chance to show what they can do and I was very happy with the way the boys went,” Arnold said.
“We created chances again. That’s the hardest thing. We had a very inexperienced team that was given an opportunity [with] only a couple of senior players around them, and I thought they handled everything really well. The most important thing is our patterns of play, and they were working. Sometimes it was the end pass, and that is what happens when you throw a new team together.”
Still, Maclaren and Souttar made it five goals apiece in this stage of qualifying, ranking them equal fifth across the eight groups. Top is Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino, who took his tally to nine on Monday night in Japan’s 4-1 Group F win over Tajikistan.
International teammate Yuya Osako is second overall with eight, including five in last week’s 10-0 rout of Myanmar which sealed the country’s place in the next phase of qualifying. Syria joined them overnight after beating Guam 3-0 in Group A, with lead striker Omar Al Somah (seven goals) in characteristically eye-catching.
Hajime Moriyasu’s Japan have scored 41 goals from seven games, albeit in a less challenging group than, say, Group C, in which Iraq, Iran and Bahrain are all in the running. In all, many of the usual suspects are in a strong position for a top-two finish.
For Australia, there is still learning to be done in the next two games against Nepal and Jordan, and Arnold’s pre-game preach of ruthlessness will no doubt be reprised in the lead-up to Saturday and Tuesday. Duke alluded to as much in his post-match assessment that the performance “could have been a bit more polished”. But it was comfortable, and did not have to be anything else.