Avere Mobil’s superb long-range strike was a highlight but Australia’s World Cup rivals would otherwise have been rubbing their hands in glee after a lackluster 1-0 friendly win over New Zealand on Thursday night.
The Socceroos were celebrating the team’s 100-year anniversary and the legendary Guus Hiddink – named Australia’s coach of the century earlier in the day – sat alongside his former assistant Graham Arnold on the bench at Suncorp Stadium to help inspire them for their final game on home soil. before they gather in Qatar in less than two months.
But aside from Mobile’s excellent 20-metre strike in the first half, there was little to worry about and France, Denmark and Tunisia, who are in Group D with Australia at the FIFA World Cup, could be worried about this meeting against the All Whites, who are on 64 places below them in the FIFA ranking.
The intensity and ferocity that marked Australia’s victories over the UAE and Peru in June was almost entirely absent, and the same possession problems that plagued the team in the latter stages of the World Cup qualifying campaign returned.
Given the relative magnitude of the event, the turnout of 25,392 was poor and the atmosphere in the half-full ground paled in comparison to other pre-World Cup warm-ups the Socceroos have enjoyed over the years.
Arnold fielded six of the 11 players who started in their last match against Peru, and with the exception of injured centre-backs Kai Rawls and Harry Soutar – and possibly Tom Rogic, who missed this window for as-yet-undisclosed personal reasons – it was essentially a complete -power side Socceroos. Adam Taggart led the forward line, flanked by Mobile and Martin Boyle, with Aaron Mooy, Jackson Irvine and Ajdin Hrustic filling the midfield, while Matt Ryan wore the captain’s armband in goal behind the back four of Fran Karacic, Trent Sainsbury, Milos Degenek and Aziz Behic – a strong hint that which team Arnold can roll out in Qatar.
Jamie McLaren, Riley McGree, Nathaniel Atkinson, Matthew Leckie, Joel King and Conor Metcalfe all got a taste of the game from the bench in the second half, with Arnold clearly intent on experimenting much more with his selection in Sunday’s second leg at Auckland’s Eden Park.
But the first half was tense from the hosts. Sainsbury produced an underwhelming performance early on, turning the ball over with a dangerous center pass that almost handed the Kiwis their first goal on a silver platter just a minute into the game. He looked almost obsolete on nine minutes when Andre de Jong slipped past him too easily and should have scored to finish off a swift counter-attack.