In the wake of his side extending Australia’s best-ever run of away form in Asia, Socceroos’ coach Graham Arnold has declared that his squad has no fear of travelling to face the AFC’s best.
Easing past a gallant Nepal 3-0 thanks to goals from Mathew Leckie, Fran Karacic and Martin Boyle, the Socceroos recorded their seventh straight win of the second phase of the 2022 World Cup qualification on Saturday morning - guaranteeing themselves top spot in Group B.
The victory also made it six wins from their past six matches away from home, a feat hitherto unreached by Australia’s men in Asia and providing an important psychological boost ahead of the increase in difficulty associated with the third round of qualification.
With heavyweights such as Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iraq potentially waiting and ready to pounce on any error, Arnold’s side’s ability to take points on the road -- a previously spotty area for Australian teams -- could be the difference between heading to Qatar 2022 or watching from home.
And although Football Australia and the Federal and New South Wales' governments are reportedly in negotiations to bring at least one qualifier to Sydney, the nation’s strict border and quarantine regulations mean that the Socceroos are likely to play a significant number of away fixtures.
“I don’t care if we play [in a hub], away from home or at home,” said Arnold.
“We’ve got to have a mentality that we approach every game exactly the same. We go on the field expecting to win every game with great energy.
“These boys have shown that they enjoy playing in these environments in the Middle East.
“The fact that we’ve only played one game at home during the whole World Cup campaign and still putting on these types of performances is fantastic.”
Taking their aggregate total from their past three games to 11 goals scored to one against, the Socceroos never appeared to be in any danger of conceding against the Gorkhalis on Saturday, who managed just a single, off-target shot at the Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium.
So comfortable with the state of play was Arnold that he gave goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas a deserved international debut as a second-half substitute for starter Andrew Redmayne.
Nonetheless, despite playing with a one-man advantage throughout the second half, the Socceroos were only able to net once in a simultaneously dominant and profligate second half.
It wasn’t for a lack of chances, with the Socceroos creating 28 shots, 12 of them on target and having 71% of the ball.
But with goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong superb for Nepal, the Australians were left frustrated: coach Abdullah Al Mutairi labelling the Nepalese “heroes” for their determined defensive display and proclaiming that they would always fight to live up to the legacy of their famous Gurkha namesakes.
“We made another nine changes tonight,” reflected Arnold.
“Very pleased with the way that we controlled the game but the most pleasing aspect was the amount of chances we created.
“You have to give credit to Nepal -- they didn’t stop running and fighting.
Overall, we came here to do a job and we haven’t finished yet.
“We played seven games - six games away from home, one game at home -- we’ve played seven games, 21 points and we’re striving to finish this off with eight wins.
“There’s only one player that we haven’t used and that’s Adam Taggart and that’s because of a small groin niggle.
“I’ll put out the best side that we have [against Jordan] and I expect to win. I expect another great performance.
“We’re here to show everybody how much we’re committed to the Australian flag and to Australia as a nation.
“We’ll recover and then we’ll get ready and we will treat this as a final against Jordan. We want eight in a row, we expect eight in a row - not want, expect.”
After going close numerous times against the Nepalese and missing a penalty against Kuwait, Boyle finally got his first goal of the Socceroos’ hub-based qualifiers when he turned in a perfectly threaded pass from Hibernian teammate Jackson Irvine in the 57th minute of Saturday’s game.
The 28-year-old said that his side’s focus was now squarely on Wednesday’s clash with Jordan.
“The expectations of this team are really high,” he said. “We’ve got a great squad, we haven’t achieved anything yet.
“We’re just taking it game-by-game and we will be going out there and wanting to take the three points.
“We’ll enjoy tonight and then we’ll get back on the training ground and we’ll prepare to get the three points against Jordan.”