The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Socceroos' 2nd Round WC Qualifiers

by Ben Somerford on Jun 16, 2021

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The Socceroos ticked a lot of boxes and created history with a perfect campaign in the second round of AFC 2022 World Cup qualifying. And they achieved it amid the challenges of a COVID hub in Kuwait.

There's a long list of records I could go through but top of that is acknowledging this is the first time Australia has ever recorded eight consecutive wins in a World Cup qualifying campaign. That's outstanding.

Of course, the campaign started way back in September 2019, ironically in Kuwait City, with the Socceroos winning 3-0 over Kuwait, before eventually hubbing in the Middle East country for the final four qualifiers.

Conditions were tough for the final phase for all sides, confined to their COVID-free hotel bubbles and training in the evenings amid sweltering temperatures.

The Australians had every excuse in the book to take the foot off the gas but they didn’t and they should be commended for an unrelenting campaign under Graham Arnold. GGArmy's Ben Somerford takes a look at the final stage.

The Good
Put simply, there was a lot to like. But it's important to preface this entire article noting the quality of the opposition. With all due respect, Chinese Taipei and Nepal were way out of their depth while Kuwait are enduring a challenging period and weren't much better.

Australia's final qualifier, a dead rubber for the boys in green and gold, against Jordan, who had everything to play for with their World Cup progress on the line, spoke volumes. To come away from that with a 1-0 win was very admirable. That match earns the most weight in my assessment.

Jackson Irvine was a standout throughout with his tirelessness and tenacity in tough conditions. Ajdin Hrustic stepped into Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy's absence impressively, although he was a bit more subdued against the Jordanians. His willingness to take on the opposition, showcased by his penalty win against Kuwait, is something the Socceroos desperately need moving forward. Riley McGree offered a glimpse of that too.

The jury is out on Arnold's experimenting with Trent Sainsbury in a holding defensive midfield role, but with Harry Souttar holding down the backline (and arguably the forward line too, given his goals output), it's not a bad idea.

James Holland's return to international football for the first time since 2014 was a success and he's got a battle with Kenny Dougall for that deep midfield role. Either way, seasoned professional Holland seems like a good influence on the squad. Fran Karacic was another honourable mention, making his debut and scoring in his second appearance. He looks like a good addition.

The Bad
In a stretch of four games where Australia won them all, scoring 12 goals and conceding only one, it's always going to come across as harsh to dwell on too many negatives. But the one area we still don't have a clear solution is who leads the front line.

Only four of the Socceroos' 12 goals came from listed forwards; Mitch Duke (two), Jamie Maclaren (one) and Martin Boyle (one). Adam Taggart, Nikita Rukavytsya, Awer Mabil, Brandon Borrello and Chris Ikonomidis all got opportunities in advanced roles too, but right there's no clear standout.

Boyle buzzes around but can be wasteful. Maclaren is a multi-faceted confident player but something is missing at Socceroos level. Taggart was limited due to injury.

The Ugly
As per above, this is always going to finicky. Boyle's flop against Nepal, leading to Rohit Chand's red card, wasn’t a great look. You can understand why the 28-year-old winger made sure the referee noticed the contact but it was minimal and he could've continued on and had a clear shot on goal in a one-on-one situation. Boyle is full of energy and seems to bring plenty to the changeroom, but I just question that action. Probably finicky.

The real ugly stuff was the behaviour of Jordan's Ehsan Haddad when he raised his foot to tackle Aziz Behich before headbutting the left-back late in Wednesday morning's game. It was pleasing to see the Socceroos not getting drawn into any of the antics of their opponents.