Lack of set piece threat a heads up for Socceroos – but in Harry they trust
Centre-back Kye Rowles is confident the Socceroos’ woeful set pieces in their opening Asian Cup win over India were a one-off as they eye better bang for their buck against Syria.
Set pieces have been a reliable route to goal for the Socceroos, with towering defender Harry Souttar and powerful forward Mitch Duke particularly dangerous targets.
But against India the Socceroos swung in 14 corners – 11 of them in the first half – for no reward, while their free kicks also lacked bite.
Regular set-piece takers Craig Goodwin and Martin Boyle’s delivery was found wanting while India handled Australia’s height brilliantly – in a potential blueprint for other opponents.
Rowles, who typically joins Souttar at attacking corners, played down any concerns ahead of Thursday’s match at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha.
“We had a few planned for the India game and they defended very, very well,” he said.
“They were tight-marking, they just threw themselves at every loose ball and for the most part, the first contacts they did very well to get anything on as well.
“They dealt very well with our height. Hopefully we can just tidy up a little bit on the delivery and the runs as well.
“There was a couple that were only a couple of inches off.
“So that’s just a matter of ‘maybe another day we’re in the right spot, all the balls hit our heads instead of theirs’.
“It’s nothing to worry about at the moment.”
Rowles was selected ahead of Cameron Burgess for the opening game, reuniting with World Cup partner Souttar in the centre of defence.
Burgess had been Arnold’s go-to in recent matches.
“It’s good to have that competition between me and Cam,” Rowles said.
“Competition is never a bad thing.
“You’re just pushing each other to get into that team and it can only make the team better because you know that you’ve got to be on your game every day; not only in the games, but at training you’ve got to be on it.
“If you have one bad day at training you’re on edge, because you’re, ‘Well, am I going to be in the team now?’.
“So just to be always on your toes. It’s a great thing to have for not only myself but for everyone involved.”
Looming as the man able to spark the Socceroos against deep-lying defences at the Asian Cup, ambitious attacker Riley McGree insists he is fit and ready to start against Syria.
McGree, who recently returned from a foot injury, came off the bench against India, then went on a brilliant run and delivered a perfect assist for Jordy Bos to score.
His speed and creativity could be just the ticket for the Socceroos to crack open Syria’s defence and seal progression to the round of 16 in Qatar.
“Physically I feel very good,” McGree said ahead of Thursday’s match.
“I feel ready and willing to contribute in any which way I’m required, and if that be starting or off the bench again I’m more than ready.
“Being out with my injury, I’ve come back with maybe a little bit of a different outlook on the opportunities I do get and not taking any for granted.
McGree played down the suggestion he could be the Socceroo to take games by the scruff of the neck but agrees with coach Graham Arnold that he can be a consistent goal-scoring threat.
“As an attacker, you want to score, you want to assist, you want to contribute in any which way you can,” he said.
“For me to take my game to the next level I need more goals on a consistent basis, or at least threatening the goal.”
Now 25, McGree, who has thrived at English Championship club Middlesbrough, is entering his prime years as a footballer.
“I like to think of it as there’s no limit to when you can be or can’t be, or will be or won’t be in your prime, but I definitely think it comes with experience,” he said.
“And the more games I play and the more experience I accrue, then naturally I will be more consistent and grow and be a better player.
“But over the next however many years I play football, I just want to play at the highest level possible and represent Australia in as many tournaments, World Cups, Asian Cups (as possible), as many caps as I can.
“Growing every day as an individual and as a player, improving is the main goal for me.
“Wherever that takes me, I’m looking forward to finding out.”
That starts with dealing with Syria, who are likely to follow India’s lead in using a deep-lying defence to frustrate the Socceroos.
“We know what we need to do, and we’re going to be prepared for these situations,” McGree said.
“The main thing is just being patient and trusting in the way in which the coaching staff have set us up to play.
“Really trusting each other that we’re going to get the result in the end.”