Australia commenced their World Cup qualification campaign with a comfortable 3-0 win over Kuwait on Tuesday.
With the opponent and sweltering conditions in Kuwait City taken into consideration, it was an unspectacular but ultimately satisfactory performance from the Socceroos. As a starting point in this qualification phase and whatever the scenario, three points can never go astray. In his first competitive fixture for Australia in five years, Adam Taggart showed he can be a fundamental piece going forward as the team's main striker. Meanwhile, titular figures in Mooy, Trent Sainsbury and Mat Ryan seized necessary responsibility. Amid the constant generational transition that international football tends to provide, that kind of thing is important.
With three points and a clean sheet in the opening game, it would seem nit picky but not even the best performances are flawless. Football's perfection lies in its imperfection. Again, one must take the opponent and conditions into account, and there was a distinct lack of control in the second half as the lines stretched. Because of lines stretching, it can subconsciously lead individuals to play as quickly as possible in the transitional phase. Especially with collective energy levels dropping, there was an increasingly erratic recognition of tempo in possession, that served to negatively apply pressure as the game progressed.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- There were both positive and negative aspects to Graham Arnold's first World Cup qualifier as Socceroos boss. It is hard to ignore how Leckie's fortunate seventh-minute opener affected the complexion of the game. There was an immediate pressure relief that came with the goal, which otherwise could have exposed facets of the 4-3-3 formation Arnold chose to field, both in terms of personnel and implementation in possession. Despite the question of starting XI, in-game adjustments were otherwise good given who was available. Chiefly, however much this might be conditioned by the outcome, the team's tenacity and willingness to assert immediate dominance was encouraging.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes receive no rating)
GK Mat Ryan, 6 -- A spectator for the majority of the opening 45 minutes, Ryan was called into action and responded capably. The keeper made a couple of critical and timely stops to deny Yousef Yousef Al-Sulaiman in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, as Kuwait started to see more of the ball.
DF Aziz Behich, 4 -- Ineffectual. Crucially lost defensive bearings on occasions, leading to Kuwaiti goal-scoring opportunities. Although he regularly found himself in advanced positions, as is required under Arnold, largely panicky in possession and failed to connect with Brandon Borrello.
DF Trent Sainsbury, 6 -- Despite a relative lack of playing time at club level, Sainsbury displayed composure in a number of instances in the second half. Relieved pressure with both defensive interventions and recoveries, along with penetrative distribution and winning fouls in possession.
DF Milos Degenek, 5 -- While not exactly the most elegant of the Socceroos two centre-backs, the Red Star Belgrade man put forward a satisfactory performance, recovering when called into action. Never looked under any significant pressure.
DF Rhyan Grant, 5 -- Boundless energy in tough conditions, even more impressive given the Sydney FC right-back is still in preseason. If not for Sultan Al Enezi's inaccuracy, Grant would have been the culprit for a quick Kuwaiti equaliser. He also found difficulty in isolation with Hamad Al Harbi.
MF James Jeggo, 6 -- Key in Arnold's generally flat midfield three, his very good start allowed the team to assert dominance in the opening half, in both attacking and defensive phases of play. Tidy in possession and moved into good positions when he had to, but grew less tethered to Mooy and Irvine defensively.
MF Aaron Mooy, 7 -- One of the Socceroos' better performers, on a night where his distribution counteracted his off-ball movement. A fine goal to put Australia up 3-0, but more importantly relative to his role, continually got the team up the pitch.
MF Jackson Irvine, 4 -- Aided in pressing scenarios, and loves to dart into space behind the defensive line, but it was of little overall attacking consequence. Exacerbates the lack of end product for a player closer to goal. Grew increasingly peripheral as the game went on.
FW Mathew Leckie, 5 -- Goals in a win will always boost confidence -- the opener being one he knew very little of -- but they belied an largely unspectacular performance.
FW Adam Taggart, 8 -- Immediate impact, despite not getting on the scoresheet. Allowed the collective to function and exploited defensive positions due to his intelligent off-ball movement, evidenced most clearly with the Socceroos' third goal. No shortage in defence from the front, either. A potentially key reference point for the Socceroos looking ahead.
FW Brandon Borrello, 5 -- With play mostly filtered down the Socceroos' right flank, few instances to really have an influence in attack. Hesitant in one-on-one situations. Worked hard defensively, but will need to show more going forward.
FW Awer Mabil, 5 -- Tried to make things happen after coming on for Leckie and forced increased defensive attention, but not impactful overall.
FW Apostolos Giannou, 4 -- Despite the game's complexion at that stage, collective play in possession grew disjointed with his introduction up front.
MF Mustafa Amini, N/R -- A necessary replenishment in energy in the 82nd minute, replacing Irvine.