Asian Cup: Socceroos Show Guts In Dominating Win Over Palestine
A much-improved Socceroos have kept their Asian Cup hopes alive, with a 3-0 win over Palestine.
It was an all-or-nothing game for the Australians in their second group match at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai on Friday.
After their shock-loss to Jordan on Sunday, the Socceroos had to take all three points to have any hope of progressing to the knockout stages.
Coach Graham Arnold, who this week lamented his ever-growing injury list, made three changes to the starting line up.
Chris Ikonomidis, Jackson Irvine and Rhyan Grant were all named to replace Robbie Kruse, Massimo Luongo and Joshua Risdon.
Australia can breathe a sigh of relief, after a dominating performance by the Socceroos put their Asian Cup campaign back on track.
But it was a nervous start to the match for the Australians, with neither team able to hold on to the ball for a significant period in the opening minutes.
Australia had the first chance of the match, when Ikonomidis teed up Jamie Mclaren in the box in the third minute. But an air swing by Mclaren saw that chance shut down and cleared by Palestine.
Palestine showed Australia's weakness defending from set pieces, but were unable to convert the pressure into points.
By the 10th minute, the Socceroos had settled into the match, stringing passes together and controlling the ball.
Their patient passing sequences paid off in the 18th minute, when the Socceroos opened the scoring via the head of Mclaren.
A pinpoint accurate pass from Tom Rogic from well outside the box landed on Mclaren's head, who put it straight into the bottom corner of the next for his first international goal.
Bolstered by their lead, the Australian's attack continued, and just six minutes later they had doubled their lead.
An unmarked Awer Mabil slotted their second into the net off a cross from Ikonimidis.
From there, it was all Australia, with both Irvine and Mabil missing chances to add a third goal.
The Socceroos began the second half much like they ended the first, with wave after wave of attack.
The crossbar saved the blushes of Palestine's Abdallah Jaber, who nearly put the ball in for an own goal off an Australian free kick.
Just minutes later, Irvine was denied by the fingertips of keeper Rami Hamada.
The Palestinians did their best to make sure things didn't go entirely the way for the Socceroos, seeing much more of the ball in the second half.
They were quick on the counterattack and caused a few headaches for the Aussie back line, but were unable to find a finished product and keeper Mathew Ryan was not called on to make a save.
Australia's first substitution for the match saw Rogic make way for Luongo, with Irvine moving into an attacking midfield position.
Jamie Mclaren was the second player to be substituted, replaced by Apostolos Giannou with eight minutes to go.
Turning to his bench for the final time, Arnold brought on Kruse for Mabil who suffered a knock.
The final third of the match saw Australia regain their dominance in possession and put the pressure on the Palestine defence.
With less than a minute to go in regular time, Australia finally extended their lead from a short corner whipped into the box by Ikonomidis for substitute Giannou to head in to the goal.
From there, Australia ran down the clock to secure all three points.
After copping heavy criticism for a flat performance against Jordan, Arnold said there would be a reaction from his side in this match -- and there was.
Despite a few shaky moments in the early minutes, Australia took control, were assertive going forward and did not give Palestine a chance to attack.
Ikonomidis has made his case to be Arnold's first choice ahead of Kruse, particularly with his diagonal passes and vision into the box.
Captain Mark Milligan was the steady force for the Australians in the midfield, directing play and keeping the ball moving forward.
Rogic, who was heavily criticised following his performance against Jordan, showed in this match why he has been a stalwart in the team with his attacking play and adding an assist to his name.
Arnold will also be pleased with the way the first two goals were scored -- they are the first to be scored by Australia in a competitive match from open play since October 2017.
Australia will be without first choice centre half Trent Sainsbury in their final group match, after he received a yellow card for time wasting -- his second for the tournament.
As for the Socceroos chances to make the knockout stages, things are looking decidedly more positive than they did on Sunday.
They currently sit second on the table behind Jordan, who took out a 2-0 win over Syria on Thursday.
A win against Syria on Tuesday would guarantee a Round of 16 berth, but a draw or loss would mean trouble as head-to-head results against the top teams would come into play.
A loss to Syria would end the Socceroos campaign, and a draw would then rely on Jordan beating Palestine.
Syria are not the team that almost cost Australia a spot in the World Cup during qualifiers in 2017 -- after their loss against Jordan manager Bernd Stange has reportedly been sacked.
Feature Image: Getty Images