Sluggish Socceroos must be better against Syria – who comes into the team to make that happen?


No matter the method, the Socceroos’ 2-0 win against India in their opening match of the Asian Cup was what Graham Arnold’s squad needed, almost.

In a nutshell, it was far from perfect yet also far from awful, as second-half goals to Jackson Irvine and Jordan Bos secured the three points and sent the Aussies straight to the top of Group B and in the box seat to qualify comfortably for the knock-out phase of the tournament.

Indian fans would be deeply disappointed that the performance offered against the Socceroos was the best their team could muster.

With a growing domestic league and more interest in the game on the subcontinent than ever before, Indian football should be in a better place; reflected in something better than the rubbish the team produced on Saturday night.

Against a rusty and new-look Socceroos team that was far from sharp and precise, India managed just 29 per cent possession, wasted it awfully and took on the shape of training cones in the second half, as the Socceroos finally started to make some serious inroads and build attacking waves.

The goals were always going to come for the Australians, yet took a little longer than was comfortable for fans watching back home. Irvine continued his golden form in national colours and when Bos popped up for the second goal, he reminded everyone of Arnold’s words some months back when he spoke of the young defender’s potential to allow the Socceroos to play in a way they had not previously.

First touch. Finish. ????

Jordy took his first #Socceroos goal like a Bos after a driving run and assist from @McgreeRiley ????#AsianCup2023 #DifferentBreed

— Subway Socceroos (@Socceroos) January 15, 2024

The coach appears to see Bos as a generational type of player, one that sweeps down the left in a more proactive manner than any Australian left-back before him; whilst also possessing a true goal-scoring instinct that will see him pop up from time to time on the scoresheet.

Anyone disappointed with the Socceroo performance had best reflect on the World Cup of 2022 and remind themselves that the tyranny of distance does sometimes translate to clunky starts for the Aussies on the big stage.

In Qatar during the World Cup, by the time the team hit the pitch for its third match against Denmark, it was humming, confident and seemingly more organised and aware of the collective cohesiveness required.

Arnold will be hoping for something similar this time around and after Group B opponents Syria and Uzbekistan played out a 0-0 draw in their opener; without displaying anything that will have the Socceroos quaking in their boots, a better performance against the 91st-ranked Syria is looking far more likely than not.

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

However, using the same eleven from the off against Syria is questionable. Defensively, the back four of Gethin Jones, Harry Souttar, Kye Rowles and Aziz Behich was rarely threatened, Irvine was as solid as always, yet Keanu Baccus, Connor Metcalfe and Craig Goodwin were probably entitled to create more and do so with a little more intent and crispness than they did.

Mitchell Duke and Martin Boyle would have enjoyed a little more ingenuity from those creative players and Riley McGree did provide a definite spark after entering the match from the bench.

Arnold also used Sam Silvera and Bruno Fornaroli in the second half and frankly, Duke’s starting spot must be questioned considering how well the Melbourne Victory striker slotted into a better-functioning attacking unit that McGree looked to be leading.


After an interesting first half the @Socceroos finally have their breakthrough against India ????#AsianCup2023???? #AUSvIND live on Paramount+

— Paramount+ Australia (@ParamountPlusAU) January 13, 2024

Aiden O’Neill will also be pushing for a spot in the starting eleven against Syria, another team likely to sit deep and soak up the Australian surges of attack.

Such an approach magnifies the importance of creativity. Perhaps Marco Tilio comes into the selection equation along with Bos, O’Neill, McGree and Fornaroli?

However, as India stifled, defended and offered little space in the attacking third for the Socceroos, the attacking group Arnold selected were not awful, just not as effective as fans would have hoped.

An improved performance is anticipated and expected and a win would almost certainly see the Australians qualify for the Round of 16, with the threshold to do so relatively low across just six groups and four third-placed teams advancing.

Arnold has taken a young and exciting squad to Qatar to win the Asian Cup, yet the team hardly found its way out of second gear against India.

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It looks like the time to make some changes, find some spark and get the campaign rolling. Arnold has a penchant to swing a selection shock or two, the clash with Syria looks to be the perfect moment for that.

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