Stunning rocket as sloppy Socceroos topple NZ in World Cup farewell
100 years after losing to New Zealand in the first-ever Australian international men’s match, the Socceroos claimed revenge - and extended a two-decade unbeaten Trans-Tasman streak – with a scrappy 1-0 win in Brisbane.
“Far from satisfied, to be honest. There’s a lot of things we could have done better,” midfielder Jackson Irvine told Channel 10 after the game.
“At the end of the day, a win is a win,” he added.
Awer Mabil’s sensational strike from distance in the 33rd minute proved the winner, with the Spain-based winger shrugging off a lack of recent club minutes to bag his eighth goal in 29 appearances for the Socceroos.
The centenary celebration doubled as the Socceroos’ final match on home soil ahead of the Qatar World Cup. And while it delivered a positive result for Graham Arnold’s men, it provided little in the way of assurance that the Socceroos can perform well in their fifth-straight World Cup appearance.
With Tim Cahill and Guus Hiddink among the 25,392 in the stands – the Socceroos’ star player and manager of the drought-breaking 2006 World Cup appearance – the performance they witnessed was largely underwhelming.
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Fans were hoping to see 18-year-old breakout star Garang Kuol make his Socceroos debut, with Graham Arnold naming seven uncapped stars in an extended squad. But Arnold opted to name a full-strength side packed with veterans of the World Cup qualifying campaign - before later promising a much-changed side would play in the rematch on Sunday in Auckland.
Despite the strong side, the Socceroos were scrappy, with rare positive moments marred by a lack of cohesion with the ball and defensive frailties without it. Against a more dangerous attacking side – New Zealand hadn’t scored in their last three matches before this meeting – those frailties could well have been exposed.
Australia’s attack also struggled to create strong scoring opportunities, with Jackson Irvine missing a rare golden chance early in the piece and substitute Mat Leckie striking the post in the 85th minute when his one-on-one counter-attacking opportunity was well saved.
Despite the difference in the FIFA rankings – Australia 39th compared to NZ 103rd – and the fact that NZ failed to qualify for the World Cup, the match was a well-balanced affair. Both sides took 12 shots, with NZ landing four on target to Australia’s three. The visitors had more passes at a greater accuracy, and should well have opened the scoring through a pair of good chances in the early minutes.
“We could have scored a bit more, and we have to be more ruthless,” coach Graham Arnold said after the game.
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The Socceroos faced an early scare in just the second minute when centre-back Trent Sainsbury played a poor ball out of defence, leading to Tim Payne shooting from range – but only at Australia keeper Mat Ryan.
New Zealand should have opened the scoring in the 10th minute after a long ball from keeper Oli Sail caught Australia’s defence out. Australian centre-back Milos Degenek missed his headed attempt to clear the danger, with the ball falling for Andre De Jong who outmuscled Sainsbury to get one-on-one with Mat Ryan. But De Jong’s shot went narrowly wide of the right-hand upright.
Australia began to grow into the game offensively, and Jackson Irvine missed a golden chance as an Aaron Mooy corner fell at his feet in the 17th minute. But his attempt to place the ball into the bottom corner dribbled wide.
Corners began to mount for both sides, and Australia seemed to have opened the scoring in the 28th-minute when Jackson Irvine headed a Mooy corner goalwards, with Trent Sainsbury deflecting it over the line from close range. But Irvine was left fuming after the referee had already blew the whistle, claiming Irvine had dragged down defender Nando Pijnaker – though replays appeared to show Pijnaker simply slipped.
But their frustration was short-lived. In the 33rd minute, Jackson Irvine poached the ball in NZ’s half and quickly fed left-winger Awer Mabil, who stepped around a defender and thundered a long-range strike into the bottom corner.
Having shot wide from a similar range earlier in the game, he made no mistake this time around, scoring his eighth goal in 29 appearances for the Socceroos.
The Socceroos settled into the game after the goal, and came out more positively in the second stanza after a lacklustre first half.
But New Zealand continued to threaten at times, with Joe Bell threatening Mat Ryan in the 57th minute with a long-range strike that fortunately slammed straight at the veteran gloveman.
Ryan was forced to race out of his box and clear a long ball two minutes later, and copped a big shot from NZ’s hulking Premier League centre-forward Chris Wood in the process.
After an hour, Riley McGree replaced Ajdin Hrustic in midfield, with Adam Taggart – who ran hard but struggled to get involved – taken off for fellow striker Jamie Maclaren.
McGree nearly scored immediately with an attempt from outside the box that sailed just over the bar.
Ten minutes after the initial bout of substitutions, goalscorer Awer Mabil was taken off for winger Mat Leckie, while Fran Karacic was substituted for Nathaniel Atkinson.
The chances continued to flow, with Martin Boyle attempting an audacious volley from outside the area – but once again sending his shot well wide of the mark.
Atkinson made a crucial clearance ten minutes from time when NZ winger Ben Waine surged down the right flank and whipped in a dangerous cross, with Atkinson desperately sliding to clear the ball at the back post.
But after a NZ free-kick from straight in front was sent into the wall, Australia broke quickly in the 85th minute. Martin Boyle and Mat Leckie raced through on goal, with Boyle playing in his fellow forward one-on-one. Leckie’s shot seemed destined to nestle in the bottom corner, but Kiwi keeper Oli Sail got the merest of touches to the ball and deflected it against the outside of the post.
In the dying minutes, Connor Metcalfe replaced Irvine, while Aziz Behich was replaced by youngster Joel King.
The match began to open up as both sides tired, and the Socceroos carved another decent opportunity in stoppage time through a counter-attack when Martin Boyle picked up the ball in the opposition half. He played a poor ball behind Riley McGree, with the substitute feeding Maclaren, who shot poorly from outside the box.
It proved one of the final acts of the match, as Australia farewelled their home country with a victory.
Arnold has named a very strong starting XI for the clash, in an indication of his thinking on the side that will take on France, Denmark, and Tunisia in the Group Stage of the World Cup.
Captain Mat Ryan is in goals.
Veterans Milos Degenek and Trent Sainsbury start in the heart of defence, with Fran Karacic and Aziz Behich either side.
In midfield, Aaron Mooy, Jackson Irvine and Ajdin Hrustic look set to form a three-man triangle.
Up front, Adam Taggart will lead the line, with Awer Mabil on the left and Martin Boyle on the right.
Remarkably, it is Taggart’s first appearance for the Socceroos on home soil, with all of his 16 prior appearances away from home. It is also his first appearance for the green and gold since October 2021.