Socceroos find their feet
Australia put in a much-improved performance from their first group game, but there's still work to do12 January 2019 | Matthew Galea
If Australia was left wondering whether or not Graham Arnold's Socceroos had the versatility and the desire required to defend their Asian crown, then they received a good answer in Australia's dominant 3-0 win over Palestine.
After a nightmare opening against Jordan, the pressure was on for Arnold and his team, even against Palestine.
Thankfully for the defending champions, the Socceroos responded in fine fashion.
Arnold opted to tweak, rather than overhaul, his tactics for what had become a must-win game against the lowly-ranked Palestinians and his players implemented his instructions with fantastic commitment – even if the overall execution remained somewhat sloppy and workmanlike.
Mark Milligan ensured the on-field leadership vacuum which so heavily affected Australia during their defeat against Jordan was not an issue on the day, expertly commandeering the Socceroos attacks from the base of midfield.
Jamie Maclaren repaid Arnold's faith with a much-improved performance, capped by his first competitive goal for the national team, thanks in large part to the selection of the sharp and mobile Chris Ikonomidis in place of Robbie Kruse.
The selection of Jackson Irvine ahead of Massimo Luongo also provided Australia much more drive from midfield. The Hull City midfielder ran enough for two players, allowing Tom Rogic to dedicate the majority of his efforts in much more advanced positions.
The result was a much more fluid Australia team which made relatively easy work of packing down Palestine's packed defence – something it struggled to do against Jordan.
Awer Mabil and Ikonomidis traded wings while Maclaren provided a much more mobile target up front, moving well into the channels and coming deep to collect the ball.
The movement proved too much for the Palestine defenders, who were constantly pulled out of position and overloaded by the surging runs of Aziz Behich and Rhyan Grant from the full-back positions.
Sure, Palestine was nowhere near as well-structured as Jordan and worked nowhere near as hard as the Jordanians, but regardless it was the response Australian football fans wanted to see from a team they believe should be making light work of this Asian Cup group.
Of course, as has been demonstrated time and time again since Australia made the switch from Oceania to Asia, whether or not Australia deserves to expect to easily defeat the majority of Asian opponents is debatable and all too often the Socceroos have paid for failing to respect their opponents.
That was arguably the case against Jordan but none of that complacency was allowed to creep into the Socceroos performance and for that, the players and the coaching staff deserve credit.
With a horror opening now behind them, Australia has now established a platform from which it can base the rest of its campaign.
The win puts Australia into second position in Group B with Jordan on top with six points. Australia meet Syria in Al Ain on Tuesday without defender Trent Sainsbury who was booked for a second successive match. The Palestineans also remain in contention but they will need a win against Jordan in their final group encounter.
Palestine, 0 v Australia, 3 (Maclaren 18', Mabil 20', Giannou 90')
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