Australia defeated Taiwan 5-1 on Monday to make it six out of six in Group B of the second round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup.
In the first half, goals from Harry Souttar, Jamie Maclaren and Trent Sainsbury put the Socceroos well and truly in control. After the break, Mitchell Duke grabbed two though with Gao Wei-Jie managing a consolation after 62 minutes.
It wasn't the most memorable of games, but there were still five things we learned.
Six out of Six is not to be sniffed at
It has been an impressive campaign, perfect in fact. Beating Kuwait means that the schedule has worked out nicely. Two games against two --with respect -- minnows means maximum points and no stress about the third round. It means that the potential banana skin that is Jordan is suddenly not slippery at all.
Australia are as good as in the final 12. Even if the Socceroos somehow relinquish top spot, by winning six out of six, it is almost certain that they would be one of the best four runners-up.
But there is still plenty to play for in the next week. There have not been many chances for Arnold to gather his players together and there won’t be many more chances before the third round starts in September. Friday is still a big deal, a competitive game. It also means a lot to the opposition. Nepal have been looking forward to playing Australia and see it is a big deal both personally for the players and for the development of the team.
Harry Souttar is unstoppable
Five goals from three international appearances is a fantastic record and the most recent was an example of how some Asian defences struggle to deal with the 1.98 metre defender from set pieces. When you have a good delivery from a set piece that puts the ball on the head of the Scottish-born centre-back then there is not much that most defenders can do. His header that opened the scoring was impressive nonetheless, with the ball travelling into the top corner. As a weapon, subtle it is not, but it is highly effective and he almost moved into six goals late in the first half with another header that hit the crossbar.
It was a game best forgotten
While there will be some concern about the reliance of set pieces to get the goals, there should be some understanding. There were wholesale changes, the heat has been intense and the playing surface was not good enough for a World Cup qualifier. The opposition may have been limited but were well-organised, content to sit back and work hard in order to limit the damage coming their way. There wasn’t much in the way of free-flowing moves and, despite the goals, not much there to stick in the memory. Sometimes, you just have to do what is necessary to win, collect the three points, take whatever positives you can get and then move on to the next game.
McGree and Genreau did their chances no harm
Despite the scoreline, it was not the kind of game that had a real standout. Riley McGree made his debut against Kuwait, albeit as a late substitute, and looked lively and also takes a mean corner kick. Denis Genreau was an intelligent presence. His small feint played a big part in the fourth goal and it was a rare moment of real quality in the entire game. Whether they did enough to get a chance to play when the full squad is available is a different matter but they surely did enough to get decent playing time in the final two games.
There are tougher tests ahead
It goes without saying that the third round of qualification is going to be the real deal. Looking around Asia and there is a sense that some teams are starting to get their act together. Of course, Japan and South Korea are always going to be a threat but Iran, who have looked a shadow of their recent selves, were back to their best in the second half against Bahrain, running out 3-0 winners. United Arab Emirates have a spring in their step under Bert Van Marwijk and Uzbekistan looked very sharp indeed in disposing of Singapore. These teams too will have to improve but the signs are that the third round could be very competitive indeed.