Arnie’s Caltex Socceroos take shape as attacking stars shine
The Graham Arnold era has gotten off to a flying start, less than three months out from the opening game of the Caltex Socceroos’ AFC Asian Cup title defence.
Apostolos Giannou, Tom Rogic, debutant Awer Mabil and an own goal were the difference as Australia cruised to a 4-0 win over Kuwait in a performance that gives a lot of excitement for the future.
Ever since Arnold has taken charge of the national team, the coach and his players have all been singing from the same song sheet.
Free-flowing, attacking football, being on the front foot, moving the ball quickly and not taking a backward step was the clear message.
And the early evidence suggests this Australian side plan to back up their words with actions.
It was evident from the outset the Caltex Socceroos meant business.
The pressing high up the pitch was something the Kuwait side couldn’t deal with. It allowed the Australians to push forward and heap the pressure on the home side.
Fullbacks Josh Risdon and Aziz Behich were able to get forward in wide areas, with their wingers in front of them – Robbie Kruse and Mathew Leckie – able to either come narrow or hug the touchline when needed.
It was no surprise when that avenue – Behich and Kruse combining on the left – lead to the opening goal with the latter’s cross turned into his own net by Khalid El Ibrahim.
Soon after, Giannou made it two – capitalising on another defensive error from a cross – and the Caltex Socceroos were on their way.
Rogic controls the tempo
The key to much of Australia’s dominance was the man Arnold challenged in the lead-up to the match, Celtic playmaker Tom Rogic.
Most touches the Celtic star produced led to an attacking opening, underlining his importance to this side come January and the UAE.
The Kuwaiti defence, tired and stretched from the amount of defensive work, gave more space to the Caltex Socceroos the longer the match went on, which played right into Rogic’s hands.
By the time the fresh legs of Daniel Arzani, Tomi Juric and Awer Mabil came on, those spaces were opening up even more.
Rogic got the goal his overall display deserved but probably the biggest highlight came two minutes from time when Mabil capped his international debut – and an eye-catching 15-minute cameo – with a goal.
It must have been so pleasing for Arnold to see just how damaging the likes of Arzani and Mabil were off the bench, while his challenge to Rogic appears to have had an immediate effect.
With another two games – against Korea Republic and Lebanon – and a block of training to come in Australia next month, the chance to build on this impressive start remains.
And if this crop of Caltex Socceroos can continue to evolve and release the shackles for their key players in the front third of the pitch, the sky is the limit come the AFC Asian Cup.
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