For the first time in a major tournament since Australia’s triumphant 2015 Asian Cup, the Socceroos opened the latest iteration with three points courtesy of second-half goals from Jackson Irvine and Jordan Bos against India.
Three points was the key against an opponent ranked 102nd in the world, compared to 2022 World Cup Round of 16 qualifiers Australia, ranked 25th.
On paper judging by the statistics, it was one way traffic, but truth be told it was a disjointed performance, lacking incision. At best, it was patient.
Graham Arnold conceded after the game, there’s a lot of improvement needed if this side is to go on and contend for the continental crown. GGArmy’s Ben Somerford reflects on the win.
We got the win and starting any tournament with three points is crucial, particularly the way the Asian Cup is structured with the top two progressing from each group plus the four best third-ranked side from the six groups.
Many fans will be disheartened the overall display but there were positives. At 0-0 at half-time, Australia stay calm and focused. They stayed patient. India had defended resolutely, like it was their grand final. Eventually, as the game wore on, they tired and our quality shone. The goals came, albeit only two. Good sides get that done.
Both of Australia’s goals came down the right-hand side, with Martin Boyle’s cross leading to the goalkeeper error that allowed Irvine to ghost into the box and fire home. Substitute Riley McGree used his dash to break free down the byline and find Bos at the far post barely 60 seconds after his introduction.
Bos’ directness created a major threat following his introduction in a more advanced left-wing role which was intriguing, especially if Arnold prefers the experience of Aziz Behich at left-back. It wasn’t Craig Goodwin’s best game on the left flank, so Bos poses a dilemma for later in the tournament.
McGree setting up Bos’ goal was exactly what Arnold would’ve wanted, after his recent injury lay-off. Arguably McGree should’ve been in the starting XI instead of Connor Metcalfe if he’d had a clean bill of health lately, so his impact suggests he can build into the tournament. Metcalfe snatched at his first-half chance after another goalkeeper mistake gifted the ball to Goodwin in a dangerous position.
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Australia’s first-half performance lacked cohesion. The gaps between players in midfield was too large, leading to long balls or misdirected passes. Arnold argued that was due to nervous energy. It maybe was also due to impatience and expecting things to happen. They partly arrested that in the second half, but connecting deep-lying midfielder Keanu Baccus with Irvine and Metcalfe along with the wingers will be critical moving forward.
Likewise Harry Souttar’s distribution at the 2022 World Cup was outstanding but he showed rustiness – possibly from his lack of game-time at Leicester City – with several wayward passes. Again, the space between Socceroos meant passes were more ambitious than necessary.
The lack of incision in the display was highlighted by the fact Australia had 28 shots but only six on target. We had 11 corners in the first half. Without scrutinizing the replay, on first hand, I’d say the bulk were directed at the near post. It didn’t work. You wonder why that was the repeated tactic when Souttar’s towering frame offers such an obvious target. Goodwin had an off day with his set-piece delivery.
I’m never keen to single out players but St Mirren midfielder Baccus – effectively stepping into Aaron Mooy’s World Cup role – didn’t have his best display. He wasn’t helped by the gaps in midfield, meaning he turned over possession too much but there was an almost horror moment when his backpass eluded Mat Ryan and nearly trickled in for an own goal.
In the end, Ryan tracked it down and it was off target, but it was too close for comfort and a sign of a nervy display from the South Africa-born 25-year-old midfielder. Arguably against stronger opponents, Baccus will have more support from Irvine in that defensive midfield role but Aiden O’Neill is an option to take his starting spot too. One to monitor ahead of Thursday’s clash with Syria.
🎥 HIGHLIGHTS | 🇦🇺 Australia 2️⃣-0️⃣ India 🇮🇳
Australia deliver a commanding performance in their Group B opener, clinching the victory!
— #AsianCup2023 (@afcasiancup) January 13, 2024