Australia have been heading for the third round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup ever since that win over Jordan in Amman all the way back in 2019, but it was made official on Saturday (AEST) as the Socceroos defeated Nepal 3-0 in Kuwait City.
Mathew Leckie headed in an early opener and turned provider for Fran Karacic seven minutes before the break. With Nepal down to ten men at the end of the first half as Rohit Chand was shown a straight red. Martin Boyle added a third in the second half to seal a comfortable win.
Karacic impresses again
The right-back was playing just his second game for his country but he already looks like he has been part of the Socceroos set-up for years. Karacic was never going to be in for a torrid time defensively against Nepal but the 25 year-old looked assured in everything he did and the manner in which he scored his first goal for his country suggested that there will be more to come.
After starting the attack just inside the Nepali half, the Brescia defender kept on running and his finish was as cool as you like. There was plenty of excitement in his goal celebration and his delight in opening his international account was pleasing to see. There will be bigger tests to come for the team and the player but he has done enough to get the chance to be tested.
Boyle may not have helped his reputation
It was only in April when Martin Boyle was vehemently defending himself after being accused of going down too easily in Scotland.
“The way I move, sometimes it is easy to be brushed off the ball. I am being shown stats that say I am the most fouled player in the league and in some games I get taken out 10-12 times. I could get multiple people booked, but no-one speaks about that," he said.
The Hibernian attacker did seem to be easily brushed off the ball just before the break as he was adjudged to have been fouled by Rohit Chand as he bore down on goal. Contact seemed soft and minimal but Boyle went down and the defender was shown the red card.
Leckie leads by example
It was fitting that the captain headed home the opener after just six minutes and then set up the second in fine fashion just before the break. Leckie was involved in much of the good attacking play that Australia produced before he was subbed off on the hour. The Hertha star looks like a leader and rarely has a bad game for his country. Whether he keeps the armband when all the players are available when the third round starts in September remains to be seen but he has done his cause no harm at all with his performances in Kuwait, as both player and skipper.
Congratulations are in order
Let’s be honest, it would have been a major shock had Australia not made it to the next stage but to do so in such a smooth fashion should be applauded. To play seven out of the eight games overseas, to play in difficult conditions after almost two years of inaction and to achieve what was needed means that this has been a professional performance.
Now thoughts can turn to the next round that starts in September. There is a competitive game before then, against Jordan on Tuesday. Jordan will be desperate to win to try and sneak into the third round as one of the best four runners-up. Coach Graham Arnold needs to pick what he thinks is his strongest team available to him and make use of what is going to be a very valuable warm-up for when the action really starts in less than three months.
Promising signs for Nepal
In the build-up to the game Nepal coach Abdullah Almutairi told The World Game that his team were going to attack Australia. He didn’t quite manage to keep his word though that was not a surprise or a disgrace especially after Rohit Chand, perhaps the team’s most important player, was sent off at the end of the first half.
There were some encouraging signs, not least in keeping the Socceroos to three goals though goalkeeper Kiran Chemzong had plenty to do with that. There are so many challenges for the coach in a country without much in the way of facilities and investment, that just to remain in a game like this until the end and making Australia work for the win is quite an achievement.
Watch a full replay of Australia v Nepal below: