Socceroos Scrape Into Asian Cup Quaters
Graham Arnold entered the quarter final clash between Australia and Uzbekistan seemingly with the Uzbek gameplan wired into his brain.
“We know more about the opposition than we know about our own team” he said when questioned about the revelations of Leeds United manager Marco Bielsa’s ‘spying’ and on his own preparation going into matches as Australia’s head coach.
His confidence off the field didn’t appear to translate on the pitch as the Socceroos struggled for much of the 120 minutes of regulation and extra time before escaping Al Ain and the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium with a 4-2 penalty kick win after two incredible saves from goalkeeper Mat Ryan.
The Socceroos (41) are ranked 54 spots higher than the Uzbeks (95) but on a night when not much went right for Australia’s men, they were lucky to escape and advance.
Australia won the possession battle 59 percent to 41 and had more total shots (11 to seven), however it was Uzbekistan who looked more likely to score over the course of the Round of 16 matchup.
The ‘away’ team had five shots on target compared to Australia’s three and threatened late with several passages of play that went well into the Australian penalty box. Late clearances from Trent Sainsbury, Rhyan Grant and Aziz Behich, among others, kept the score at 0-0.
Whatever Arnold knew about Uzbekistan’s plans mattered little as Australia were often playing on the back foot, unable to control the midfield battle and were it not for Mat Ryan cleaning up defensive mistakes, the Socceroos could have been making an early exit from the tournament they won four years ago.
Heading into their quarter-final clash with the UAE, Arnold will need to work his magic on his squad particularly after Tom Rogic’s second yellow card of the tournament means he’ll miss the upcoming clash.
The ‘Roos will need a bigger output from Jamie Maclaren and Awer Mabil if they’re to get past the tournament hosts on Saturday morning. The striker and midfielder struggled to make an impact in the win as neither could make the most of their chances when on the ball and were substituted before the 90 minutes of regulation was up.
UAE enter the quarter final clash in good form having beaten Kyrgyzstan 3-2 in the Round of 16 but will face their toughest test of the tournament against the Socceroos after battling lowly India and Thailand in the group stages, both sides ranked 97th and 118th in the world respectively.
Despite losing their opening group game and playing less than ideally against Uzbekistan, the Socceroos are still in a good position to repeat as champions.
While no team in the tournament will hand the reigning champions the title, Australia still has the ability to repeat.
Matthew Leckie’s recover from injury is a massive boost given the timing of Rogic’s ban as he can be Australia’s most dangerous player, but winning the Asian Cup won’t come down to a single player.
Mat Ryan may be the only player on the squad who can have a game-winning performance but that will matter for naught if the Socceroos are unable to score goals.
The speed of Leckie and Mabil, combined with Irvine’s passing ability will be key heading deep into the tournament.
The lack of an out and out goal scorer hurts the Socceroos but the combination of the team’s parts should be enough to overcome any issues going forward.
The quarter-final matchup between Australia and the UAE is scheduled for 3:00am Saturday morning AEST.