Ten World Cup qualifying wins in a row, three points away from home against improving opponents in difficult, humid conditions on a bumpy pitch and a result that gives them the perfect platform to pursue a place at Qatar 2022.
The Socceroos might not have played with great style or panache, but they got the job done in functional fashion in a 1-0 win over Vietnam in Hanoi, courtesy of Sydney defender Rhyan Grant’s header just before the interval.
Coach Graham Arnold says battling but getting the win anyway is the sign of a good team.Credit:Getty Images
And while supporters – particularly those millions stuck at home in COVID-19 lockdowns – might have craved a more adventurous performance and more authoritative scoreline, there are no points for artistic impression in World Cup qualification.
It should not be forgotten that this was a group that collectively had only four training sessions before the 3-0 win over China and this triumph over a Vietnamese side that had not lost at home for six years.
Coach Graham Arnold had to supervise the squad without his assistants – COVID-19 absentees – in Doha and Hanoi, and the pitches they trained on in Vietnam, covered by toads, were less than ideal.
Australia will get better, but they will need to; Oman, their next opponents – perhaps in Sydney – have improved, as their win over Japan shows, while the Samurai Blue are always implacable opponents in what is invariably billed as a clash of regional heavyweights.
Rhyan Grant was on target against Vietnam.Credit:Getty Images
This squad is a work in progress. Arnold is often criticised by the soccer public for a defensive and safety first approach, but in such heat and humidity it was hard to press from the front and take the game to their desperate hosts for 90 minutes.
He knows that there are tougher tests on the horizon.
“I was very happy with the effort and the performance, it could have been better, but you have to look at the conditions we played in. Another clean sheet, the effort was fantastic,” he said on Ten after the match.
“It was a great ball from Ajdin Hrustic, a late run from Rhyan Grant [for the goal]. They set up as we expected them to, in a 5-4-1 to defend very deep and not give us much space.
“But it is the sign of a good team when you don’t play at your best, but you can still win. The humidity is through the roof. They had a couple of little half chances, but the boys put their body on the line to block shots. Eight clean sheets in 10 games is fantastic.
He paid tribute to Grant’s commitment to the national team.
“I am so grateful for Rhyan himself. He was one of the only A-League players who put his hand up to come. He will do anything to play for the country.
“I know he was a bit worried about his fitness and the fact that he hadn’t kicked a ball since the end of May, but as I said to him, freshness and adrenaline will get you through. He’s done a great job in both games.“
Grant scored his first goal in his 16th international game. He will now stay overseas and concentrate on maintaining fitness ahead of the match against Oman next month.
“It was a difficult match. I snuck in at the back post and Ajdin put in a nice cross and it just bounced up for me. I didn’t know whether to square it or go for goal, but I just went for glory in the end and lucky it snuck into the back post,” he said post-game.
Experienced defender Trent Sainsbury admitted the team lost its way in the second half as Vietnam chased a leveller.
“We caused them problems in the first half, but we didn’t really do much in the second half, we took our foot off the gas. They had a couple of half chances when they were getting a bit desperate with counter-attacks.
“Three points away from home in Vietnam, clean sheet, I will take that.”
He, too, praised Grant’s decision to make himself available for a call-up.
“For him to leave Australia knowing that he is probably going to have to come back for two weeks and quarantine, sacrifice for your country, it’s what it is all about. You can’t ask for more than that and he got his just desserts with the goal that got us the win.”
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