Three Burning Questions: Socceroos v Palestine

by Ben Somerford on Jan 10, 2019

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He may be barely six months into his new job but Socceroos coach Graham Arnold faces his first real acid test in Friday’s must-win Asian Cup clash with 99th ranked Palestine in Dubai.

The fallout from Sunday’s dismal defeat to Jordan hasn’t been as vicious as we’ve seen in the past after shock losses, but failure to get the three points on Friday will fuel a new wave of #SokkahTwitter vitriol.

I always felt heading into this Asian Cup, despite the rankings, this fixture would be Australia’s best easiest. Jordan and Syria have given the Socceroos issues in the past, particularly in the Middle East while Palestine aren’t at that level, despite being plucky.

So this match presents an opportunity. But it also presents a lot of pressure.

With that in mind, GGArmy’s Ben Somerford asks three burning questions ahead of the Palestine clash.

What do we need to do differently?
The result against Jordan wasn’t good but nor was the performance. The lack of Australian frustration at some refereeing decisions which could’ve gone either way was symbolic of a widespread belief we didn’t really deserve a win, let alone a draw.

So Arnold needs to turn it around in terms of the result and the performance to re-instil that belief and Palestine represents a prime opportunity.

Palestine will play a similarly defensive style against the Socceroos, determined to deny them space in the middle, force them wide and break on the counter when the opportunity presents. Jordan have provided the blueprint, so why not?

Australia needs to be wise to that tactic but also back themselves in. The likes of Massimo Luongo, Awer Mabil, Chris Ikonomidis and Tom Rogic all have the skill to get on the ball and beat their opponent and create an overload. Our full-backs, likely Aziz Behich and Rhyan Grant, can get up and down to provide the width, allowing the likes of Mabil, Ikonomidis or Robbie Kruse to drift from the flanks inside to confuse the opposition.

Movement and remaining unpredictable is key to pulling apart any opponent determined to sit back.

Can Rogic respond?
Even with a broken bone in his left hand, the expectations are high for the Celtic midfielder who underwhelmed in the opening defeat. Rogic’s reluctance to turn on the ball, get at the Jordanian defence and try his luck from range was frustrating for Australia. After all, that’s his trademark and one of the side’s genuine avenues to goal.

Rogic is a quality player and, following plenty of criticism, I’m confident coach Graham Arnold will back him to respond. It’s not just about his will to respond though, but also mentally figuring out the challenge he’ll face against Palestine, which won’t be too different to the defence Jordan employed.

Too often Rogic was worried by Jordan’s numbers in the centre of the park and opted to go wide, but he needs to believe in himself and take on the opposition. The fear that puts in the opposition creates space for others.

Are the injuries genuinely a concern?
Australia has injury clouds over Andrew Nabbout, Josh Risdon and Rogic, while Mathew Leckie still hasn’t been fully re-integrated into group training due to his hamstring issue and won’t play. It appears Rogic will take a leaf out of Iran’s Ashkan Dejagah’s book and play through the pain in his hand.

However, Nabbout and Risdon’s availability remains unclear, although it’s worth noting the Urawa Reds man trained way from the main group on Wednesday.

Nabbout didn’t play Australia’s opener but Jamie Maclaren struggled up front, albeit bereft of service, and Arnold may be considering a change. There are other options though, given the impact of Chris Ikonomidis and Jackson Irvine off the bench, while the bigger frame of Apostolos Giannou may suit playing against an opponent focused on parking the bus.

As for Risdon, the right-back was replaced at half-time against Jordan, with Rhyan Grant doing a serviceable job. The Wanderers man remains first choice but few would believe Grant can’t fill in adequately, particularly given his good fitness and stamina against an opponent who will likely only venture forward on the counter.

So, in my opinion, we've got adequate cover for Nabbout and Risdon and injuries cannot be used an excuse in hindsight.