With coach Graham Arnold out with COVID-19 and midfielder Ajdin Hrustic suspended, it was Celtic midfielder Tom Rogic who stood up for the Socceroos in Melbourne, while two born and bred South Australians opened their international accounts.
Entering a crucial stage of World Cup qualification, Australians would be forgiven to bypass the lowly Vietnam in their thoughts and focus on the important showdowns against World Cup hopefuls Oman, Saudi Arabia and Japan.
Even though Vietnam is yet to pickup a point in this stage of qualifications, it would have been remiss of Australia to head into a game of this magnitude without remembering the reverse fixture in Hanoi in September 2021.
Despite leaving Vietnam with all three points, Graham Arnold’s Socceroos were put to work. A lacklustre Australian side had the majority of possession but could not capitalise on it, only producing a solitary shot on target.
Australia was fortunate that that single shot, a Rhyan Grant header on the eve of half time, produced the only goal of the game. Vietnam looked dangerous on the counter throughout the game, threatening to steal a point.
It was a different story at AAMI Park, with the absent Graham Arnold selecting an offensively minded midfield of Jackson Irvine, along with Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic, both returning to national team duty after injury absence, in order to convert a strong grasp of possession into goals.
The selection seemed to be justified just 19 seconds into the game with Rogic opening the scoring, only for the goal to be ruled out for offside interference on the Vietnamese goalkeeper.
Rogic’s ability to pull the strings in the middle of the park was a timely reminder for Australians of his technical brilliance and importance to the national team’s fortune. He has found a new lease of life under Ange Postecoglou at Celtic, and with the midfielder in an inspired mood, the Vietnamese resistance did not last long.
Australia’s onslaught on the Vietnamese defence was physically taxing, but did not bear fruit until half an hour into the match. Instead of driving at the Vietnamese backline, Rogic picked out a free Jamie Maclaren with a deep cross.
Maclaren obliged and did what he so often does at AAMI Park, nodding the ball past the keeper to open the scoring.
Any hope for Vietnam was extinguished before the half time break. This time, the architect was Mathew Leckie, who kept showing promising sings, building on his recent form for Melbourne City.
Leckie had two penalty appeals turned down in the first half and was a constant source of pain for Vietnam down the left hand side.
His defining moment of the game came in injury time, where he rewarded an intelligent Rogic run with a perfectly weighted ball. Rogic then slotted in a well deserved goal to make Australia’s lead more comfortable.
After a slow start to the second half, Arnold communicated his intentions to make changes to his staff. His substitutes had the desired impact and it was a South Australian story.
Adelaide United’s Craig Goodwin made the most of his national selection. Coming on for former Red Mathew Leckie, he ran onto a ball from keeper Matt Ryan and audaciously chipped Bùi Tấn Trường from close distance to score his first goal for his country.
The joy for South Australians did not end there, with Goodwin combining with another Adelaide United product and recent Middlesbrough FC signing Riley McGree, with the latter hitting a shot with his weaker right foot from outside the box to also open his account for Australia.
The result is a credit to United’s continuous commitment to youth development, with former Red James Jeggo also featuring off the bench.
United’s continuous investment in South Australian youth is just as heavy today, with current youngsters including Louis D’Arrigo, Bernardo, Jonny Yull, Ethan Alagich, Alex Popovic, Mohamed Toure and Nestor Irankunda all hoping to follow the paths set by the likes of Goodwin and McGree.
The Socceroos now travel to Muscat to face Oman, as they continue to battle for automatic qualification to the World Cup. Oman will be a challenge, but one that Graham Arnold’s men must overcome to give themselves the best chance to avoid a play-off situation.
With upcoming games against group pace setters Japan and Saudi Arabia, the Socceroos hold their destiny in their hands. Beating Vietnam 4-0 is an expected result, but Australia has unearthed potential contributors going forward and a stack of confidence heading into the crucial matchups as the race to Qatar heats up.
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