Socceroos big guns fire as World Cup campaign off to a flyer

Australia made a perfect start to their second stage of World Cup qualifying, destroying a poor China 3-0 in Doha to top the group after matchday one with an assured display that belied their difficult buildup.

After a nervy opening 15 minutes it was completely dominant performance from the Socceroos, who scored through Awer Mabil and Martin Boyle before halftime and Mitch Duke 59 seconds after he arrived as a second half substitute.

Celtic’s Tom Rogic, who seems reborn this season under former Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou, had some sublime touches while Ajdin Hrustic commanded the centre of the park. Mabil and Boyle were dangerous throughout, while Trent Sainsbury had some superb moments on the ball from the back.

The winning margin put Australia top of the group after one match and was a ninth straight qualifying win – the second time Australia has managed that feat and first within a WCQ campaign. In the groups other matches, Saudi Arabia came from behind to down Vietnam 3-1 while Japan lost to Oman earlier on Friday.

The top two teams will go through to the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, with the third placed team getting a playoff.

Australia had won all eight matches in their previous stage of qualifying. Their lead up was affected by COVID with star striker Mat Leckie missing out, but it made no difference to the result as the front three of Mabil, Boyle and Adam Taggart created plenty of openings against a ragged defensive line.

China’s main attacking threat, Wu Lei, couldn’t get in the game – the diminutive Espanyol striker given the rag doll treatment by hulking Harry Souttar.

Aaron Mooy returned in the second half and said the team spirit was high after his team had 62 percent possession with 23 shots to seven and nine on target to zero..

“We only had two days together but the team spirit has been built over years,” said Mooy.

“We’re all good mates, it’s nice to be around my people and we share good memories together.

“Australia is having a tough time at the moment with the lockdown – hopefully they watch this and it makes it a tiny bit better. Hopefully we’re doing the country proud.”

Coach Graham Arnold said he was “very proud of the perfomance and there’s a lot more improvement to come.”

“When you bring the Socceroos family back together the mateship is crucial and they were fantastic tonight,” Arnold said.

He said his plan had been to make the most of players in club form, and the key men were impressive.

“What I’ve been doing in the last three weeks is look closely at the roles the boys have played at their clubs and replicating that instead of something different,” said Arnold.

Mabil had five shots on target in the game, which Opta stats reported was the joint most of any player in the Asian WCQ campaign, that’s now in stage two.

He opened the scoring on 24 minutes when he burst through onto a superb Sainsbury pass. Mabil’s first time shot was well saved but Taggart fetched the rebound on the right, swung a ball back across the frame and Mabil was alert to nudge it into the net.

Mabil said he had practiced the movement in training with Sainsbury under Arnold’s direction.

“It was a shame I couldn’t finish it first time when he put that beautiful through ball in but eventually Taggs got the ball put it back in and I just went for it and it hit the back of the net,” Mabil said.

The game was played in an empty stadium but Socceroos’ leading goal scorer Tim Cahill was among the few there to cheer on the team.

“He’s a legend of the game and legend of our country,” Mabil said. “He’s someone who set the standard really high and we’re privileged he can come and watch us tonight and we put on a show for him.

“We’re only just getting started and I’m really excited for what we’re going to do. We’re here to make history.”

Mabil, who plays for Danish cub FC Midtjylland, also set up the third goal when his sharp shot from the left was parried into Duke’s path.

“I can remember back in his Adelaide days and when he first came into the Socceroos, he was very quick but very raw,” said former Socceroo Mark Milligan on the Channel 10 post-game show.

“Everytime I see him play now he seems to have added another aspect to his game and he’s really developed that final action whether it be a shot or that pass.”

Another ex-Socceroo, Alex Brosque, said Arnold has been working hard to help Mabil sharpen his game.

“They really brought him in and he’s learnt a lot of the boys that were there,” said Brosque. “You can see he feels so confident and at home in that jersey.

“He’s done a lot of homework, keeps evolving his game. Arnie has him watching videos of the runs he needs to make and the areas to pick the ball in. Every game he’s getting better.”

Australia play their second match against Vietnam in Hanoi on Tuesday and there is some doubt over Boyle, who came off after being hacked down late in the game. He, worryingly, held his hamstring but walked off the field unassisted.

Socceroos captain Mat Ryan barely had a touch in goal and suggested the only disappointment on a night of great encouragement was “we didn’t convert a couple of more chances.

“That’s an example of the standards we set for ourselves. We’ll enjoy this but we’re a long way from where we want to be in terms of finishing the job.”

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