Arnold's tactical tweaks work wonders for Socceroos


ANALYSIS: Same as Australia's opening defeat to Jordan in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup was not seen as the end of the world, a comfortable victory over Palestine does not mean that the team's maladies are cured.

A 3-0 win in Dubai was exactly what the doctor ordered and it put Graham Arnold's men on the cusp of qualification for the knockout phase of the competition.

Goals from strikers Jamie Maclaren, Awer Mabil and substitute Apostolos Giannou gave the Socceroos second spot in Group B behind Jordan. 

A draw in their final game against Syria in Al Ain early on Wednesday morning would guarantee the Socceroos second place and a likely round of 16 clash with Uzbekistan or Oman.

The Australians heeded Arnold's demand for a strong response to their dishevelled effort against Jordan that yielded a 1-0 defeat.

The team played with speed, purpose and cohesion in a first-half performance that showed that the Jordanian debacle was just a mishap not an ominous sign of things to come.

Striker Chris Ikonomidis and midfielder Jackson Irvine were rewarded with a start after their positive substitute appearances against Jordan and did not let Arnold and the team down.

Ikonomidis stole the show with two assists and a lively display while Irvine's all-action game gave the team the impetus that was lacking in their first game. Both should start against Syria.  

Yet for all their domInance and flashes of inspired football, the Socceroos were not flawless.

They were rather slow in their build-up in the initial part of the game until Maclaren notched his maiden goal for Australia in the 18th minute with a deft header from an immaculate cross by Tom Rogic, who played much better than he did in the first game.

The Australians played too many lateral or backward passes, mainly because there was not much movement off the ball and space in the front third was at a premium.

But after Mabil made it 2-0 two minutes later from a glorious cross by Ikonomidis, the Socceroos assumed total control of proceedings.

They held possession for long periods and drove forward in numbers led by captain Mark Milligan's energy and supplemented by the enterprise of fullbacks Rhyan Grant and Aziz Behich. Several scoring opportunities were created but, to no one's surprise, they were squandered. The final ball sometimes left a lot to be desired.

Giannou made the result more reflective of the relative strengths of the two teams with a free header from another Ikonomidis centre in the dying moments of the game. 

The mobility in attack that Arnold is seeking worked much better against Palestine than it did against Jordan and the confidence gained from this easy victory should serve the team in good stead in the knockout phase of the tournament.

Provided the Socceroos make it and not fall to Syria which would mean almost certain elimination. 

Australia will have to do it on match day three without defender Trent Sainsbury who picked up his second yellow card in the tournament and will be suspended for one match.

Milligan is expected to slot back into defence with Massimo Luongo taking his place as holding midfielder.

All in all it was an encouraging all-round display against a set of players that threatened to turn the match into a physical contest.

The Socceroos however had too much skill for the gritty Palestinians who defended in numbers and it is to their credit that they managed to ram home their technical superiority when they could so easily have been caught up in an arm wrestle they probably would have lost.

Socceroos fans would be entitled to feel much better this time around.