Three burning questions: Socceroos v Nepal

by Ben Somerford on Oct 10, 2019

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It’s hard to be fully engaged by the early stages of the Socceroos’ 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign ahead of clashes with relative minnows but there’s more to these matches than meets the eye.

Australia eased past Kuwait 3-0 to open their campaign and take on Nepal in Canberra (8pm AEDT Thursday) and then Chinese Taipei away on Tuesday.

Nepal and Chinese Taipei are currently ranked 161st and 129th respectively on the FIFA Rankings. Don’t expect much.

The Socceroos should easily claim four home wins, but there’s no guarantees of securing top spot in this group with the ever-dangerous Jordan present and some unfamiliar away trips to come.

Top spot secures automatic progress to the next stage, while the runner-up must qualify as one of the top four second-ranked teams out of eight groups. Any slip-ups and this is no fait accompli.

Ahead of Thursday’s clash with Nepal, who recorded a 2-0 win in Taipei last time out, GGArmy’s Ben Somerford asks three burning questions.

Do we take mercy?
Make no mistake, despite the lack of star power, the Socceroos will comfortably beat the Gorkhalis. Nepal went down 7-0 away to Kuwait in their opening fixture. Given how Australia fared in Kuwait City, a 3-0 win, that provides a fair reason for plenty of confidence.

But will Australia bludgeon their opponents and pile on the goals? There is incentive with goal difference potentially a factor down the line. And there’s opportunities too for young bloods to get international goals, something ex-Celtic striker Scott McDonald infamously never did across 26 caps (sorry Scott, if you’re reading!). In total across 23 players, with Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak and Tom Rogic and Mass Luongo not present, this squad has only 40 international goals.

Jamie Maclaren only broke his international duck at the Asian Cup and still has just one goal from 13 appearances in green and gold. Germany-based Brandon Borrello is a player on the rise and he could do with a maiden Socceroos goal to build more momentum. Adam Taggart has three international goals to his name but they were all more than six years ago. It’s funny how a few goals to your name take some pressure off. Just ask Macca (sorry again!).

Lock in the ‘imports’?
Coach Graham Arnold appears set to give Scotland-born England-based defender Harry Souttar his international debut, on his maiden visit to Australia. As quirky as that is, given this is an official World Cup qualifier, any appearance will confirm Souttar’s allegiance.

Likewise, in-form Groningen midfielder Ajdin Hrustic’s only appearance for Australia came in a friendly against Brazil, so it is possible with a change of mind, he could still ‘defect’. Born to a Bosnian father and Romanian mother, Hrustic has attracted some international interest. Following good form in the Eredivisie, that will return if Arnold and co don’t act. To be fair, his form warrants selection, so it’s time to lock him in. He’ll play, maybe start.

Will the Canberra public get out in force?
The Socceroos haven’t played in the nation’s capital since November 2015 when 19,412 fans turned out to witness a comfortable 3-0 win over lowly Kyrgyzstan in the early stages of 2018 World Cup qualifying. This fixture is similar; occurring at the start of qualifying, against a weak opponent we should ease past and also in the warmer months in Canberra, avoiding the winter chill, which will suit spectators.

Canberra has been transfixed on the Raiders for the past few weeks, so the timing isn’t bad following their heart-breaking NRL Grand Final loss. It also comes days out from the start of the A-League and debut of Western United, who beat out the ACT’s wannabe franchise for an expansion spot. Further A-League expansion isn’t really on the horizon for the timebeing but a big crowd could be a timely reminder for the decision makers. Anything less than 15,000 would be disappointing.