The Socceroos earned themselves the best chance of success in the Asian Cup knockout stage by clinching top spot on Tuesday although the uninspired performance and lack of chances will raise more concerns.
Australia lacked creativity but did what was required, managing a dull 1-1 draw with Uzbekistan, to secure top spot in Group B.
Martin Boyle’s penalty was emphatic although the referee decision seemed contentious albeit unfortunate for the White Wolves who was wrongfooted by Kusini Yengi.
That was the Socceroos’ only shot on target for the game, however, with Uzbekistan eventually coming up with a deserved second-half equalizer from Azizbek Turgunboev to claim the runners-up spot in the group.
We got the job done! Top spot. For only the second time in Australia’s Asian Cup history, we’re headed into the knockout stage top of the group, meaning we’ll take on either third from Group C or D thus the likes of Palestine or Indonesia.
That should offer us the best avenue to the last eight and hopefully beyond, unless there’s a plot twist in their final group matchdays.
It was difficult to get excited about Tuesday’s display, beyond Graham Arnold’s side showing some tournament sense with their ball control and ability to take the sting out of Uzbekistan’s periods of ascendancy.
It is worth commending the side for not conceding a goal for a record 651 minutes until Turgunboev’s leveller, dating back six straight clean sheets to the 1-0 loss to England in October. Harry Souttar, besides for his hopeful long balls, always looked assured in defence.
— Subway Socceroos (@Socceroos) January 23, 2024
Most Socceroos’ supporters will be worried about the side’s hopes of success in this tournament following a distinct lack of inspiration, creativity or goalscoring chances on Tuesday. Australia managed eight shots, with only one on target, coming from the penalty spot.
Arnold may argue it was the circumstances and they did what they needed, but the same side only managed one shot on target against Syria.
There was a distinct lack of urgency and adventure which will need to change against better opposition.
The individual quality and skill of Riley McGree shone at times, along with Martin Boyle and substitutes Bruno Fornaroli and Connor Metcalfe in their cameos but there wasn’t enough of that and it wasn’t followed up with cohesion from teammates.
Arnold’s side will need to be brave in the knockout stages and the current evidence doesn’t bode well. That’s not to say they won’t come out of their shells and injecting subs like Marco Tilio may help bring the side to life.
Uzbekistan’s goal came down their left side, with Nathaniel Atkinson continually exposed throughout the game, allowing Jaloliddin Masharipov in the pivotal instance too much space to deliver a well-weighted cross.
The more experienced Aziz Behich was solid but also caught out on occasion, meaning the Socceroos’ full-backs are a clear weakness.
Arnold may consider dropping Jordan Bos to left-back and reinstating the mysteriously absent Craig Goodwin into the starting XI. Atkinson is another problem, albeit with less obvious solutions with Thomas Deng and Lewis Miller in contention.
— #AsianCup2023 (@afcasiancup) January 23, 2024