Though it could have been much more, Socceroos head coach Graham Arnold has declared himself pleased with the offensive display produced by a young and inexperienced Socceroos side in their 5-1 World Cup qualifier win over Chinese Taipei.
In what was a relatively painless fixture against the Asian minnows, Tuesday morning’s triumph means that Australia’s men have now recorded a sixth consecutive win for the first time since 2001 and marked their a straight win outside of Australia - something they haven’t accomplished since they resided in the Oceania confederation back in 2000.
Harry Souttar, who is beginning to make a habit of scoring against Taiwan, opened the scoring in the 11th minute of the contest when he met a Riley McGree corner and powered a header home.
Converting a penalty he himself had won, A-League Golden Boot winner Jamie Maclaren made it 2-0 in the 27th minute of the contest before McGree, making his Socceroo starting debut, swung another corner onto the head of Trent Sainsbury at the Taiwanese back post to make it 3-0.
A Mitch Duke brace delivered in the 46th and 86th minutes completed the victory and secured the progression of the Socceroos to the next phase of World Cup qualification - other results meaning they are guaranteed to go through as one of the four best group runners up even in the unlikely event they are overhauled by Jordan.
Delivered when debutant Denis Genreau sprung Brandon Borrello into space on the left flank to drive in a cross that he met at the near post, Duke’s opening goal represented the first that Arnold’s side had delivered from open play since returning to international action - the Socceroos' three goals against Kuwait delivered from a corner, penalty and free-kick.
And while it might seem churlish to declare that a 5-1 victory could very easily have been much more, that strike came from one of 29 shots put in by the Australians with their 79% of possession, with ten of those efforts across the 90 minutes at the Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium on target.
Frequently defending with ten and sometimes even eleven men behind the ball, the Taiwanese did an admirable job of clogging passing lanes and pockets of space and making life very difficult for their foes when they entered the final third.
Nonetheless, having revealed leading into the game that he wanted his side to be “more ruthless”, Arnold said that he was happy with the offensive output from what was an inexperienced Socceroos line-up.
“We created chances and that’s the hardest thing - to create those chances,” he said post-game.
“Look, I think the performance was very good. I think that we had a very inexperienced team that was given an opportunity, only a couple of senior players around them. I thought they handled everything really well and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
“I think that most important was our patterns of play. They were working but sometimes it was the end pass [that wasn’t there].
“That’s what happens when you throw a new team together.
“Set pieces, they’re part of the game. Set pieces are crucial in elite football now. The fact that we scored from the set pieces is also great. That means that the boys are taking note of what we’re doing at training with the set pieces and they’re playing their roles.”
“It’s always good to play for your country and I was very thankful to get my opportunity today and cap it off with a couple of goals,” added Duke.
“You can always be better as a striker, I know I could have gotten a few more into the back of the net today. You’re never satisfied, you always want to do more, especially for your country.
“Job done [tonight] and two more games to go in this group so we want to get maximum points and that’s the main target for us.”
As proclaimed by Arnold, the Australian XI that took the field in the wee hours of Tuesday morning was a highly inexperienced and somewhat experimental side.
McGree and Genreau, two of the Socceroos best, made their first-ever starts in the contest, and Maclaren, Ryhan Grant, Trent Sainsbury were the only starters that had made more than ten appearances for the national team.
After an injury-enforced seven-year gap, Melbourne City defender Curtis Good earned his second international cap as an unfamiliar left-back, while City teammate Connor Metcalfe and Central Coast Mariners defender Ruon Tongyik -- who had previously turned down a number of call-ups to the South Sudanese national team -- made their international debuts, the latter as a six.
“I was very, very proud of the boys,” said Arnold.
“We had a lot of young players tonight that were making their debut. It was an opportunity to give younger players a chance to show what they can do and I was very happy with the way that the boys went.
“It’s the only way that you’re going to develop in your career - when you get an opportunity.
“We had debutants but we also had Borrello, Good, Souttar, [Kenny] Dougall, McGree who have had one or two caps. We had the experience there of Mitch Duke who has only had [six] caps, and Jamie Maclaren and Trent Sainsbury around those kids.
“I think they did very, very well and I’m very proud of them.”