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A hugely inexperienced Socceroos side battled to a 0-0 draw with Singapore in a friendly game on a gluepot pitch at Singapore’s National Stadium tonight.
The youthful Australian side and their enthusiastic opposition struggled on a pitch which cut up and became slippery and heavy due to strong pre-mach rain.
Awaiting the arrival of most of his overseas based stars for Wednesday’s crucial World Cup qualifier against China in Kunming, Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek blooded nine players, six of them in the run-on side.
The infusion of new blood represented the biggest influx of newcomers in an Australian team since eight players won their first cap against Indonesia 18 years ago.
The difficult conditions hardly enhanced the many newcomers’ prospects of making the squad for the China game, which Verbeek will finalise after the weekend’s round of European club games.
Australia looked the more dangerous side early on, with Archie Thompson and James Troisi supplying teasing crosses along the six yard box and midfielder Mile Jedinak’s low hard free kick in the ninth minute forced a good save from goalkeeper Lionel Lewis.
The Singapore custodian beat away a fierce 27th minute drive from the lively Troisi but could only watch a few seconds later, when a Bridge shot clipped the crossbar.
After a quiet start, Singapore became more ambitious and dangerous as the first half wore on.
Former Australian Alex Duric went close with two attempts, firing just wide on one occasion and shooting weakly at Ante Covic from close range.
The Socceroos struggled to create clear cut opportunities in the early stages of the second half, though on the hour Bruce Djite was put clear by Mark Bridge, but had his shot blocked by Lewis.
The home goalkeeper also turned aside a 35 metre drive from Nikolai Topor-Stanley in the 70th minute.
Covic spared Australia’s blushes with an important 82nd minute save.
Newcastle Jets’ Adam Griffiths joined his siblings Ryan and Joel as senior Socceroos in the match.
Other members of the Jets’ A-League title winning squad to get their first cap and start the game were youngster James Holland and grand final goalscoring hero Bridge, who recently signed for Sydney FC.
The other debutants in the run-on side were England-based Troisi of Newcastle United, Perth defender Topor-Stanley and Central Coast midfielder Jedinak.
With one eye on Wednesday, Verbeek replaced skipper Harry Kewell and another experienced star Archie Thompson at halftime, with the Adelaide duo of Djite and Nathan Burns winning their first and second caps respectively.
Other debutants to come off the bench in the second half were Fulham’s Adrian Leijer and Melbourne’s Leigh Broxham.
Defender Jade North and goalkeeper Ante Covic captained the Socceroos in the second half, but the numerous changes and difficult conditions made it hard for Australia to establish any rhythm or pattern.
Verbeek confirmed nine of tonight’s squad would travel to China, with Kewell, Michael Beauchamp, Covic, Adam Griffiths, North,, Topor-Stanley, Bridge, Thompson and Djite making the journey.
“It’s always a great honour to play for your country, but in a World Cup qualifier it’s even more important and a little bit more special,” Bridge told Fox Sports.
Verbeek said he was more interested in seeing how his players performed tonight rather than the actual result.
“I think they gave everything they could, I had some very nice surprises,” Verbeek told Fox Sports.
“Players were better than I expected, they did a great job. I had some disappointments, that’s good, so I learned lot that and that was the most important part of this game.
“The last 15 minutes we gave too much space away, but I was very pleased with the first 75 minutes of the boys.
“I think it was a very good test. I’ve learnt a lot about my players, as far as I can see everybody is fit.
Verbeek said the pitch was very heavy and looked absolutely terrible when they arrived at the stadium.
He said the players did well on a surface that Bridge described as very tough to play on.
“It was like ice skating, the boys had screw ins on and we were still slipping all over the place,” Bridge said.
“I think in the far corner there was still a puddle, so we tried to run around it and not put the ball through that one.
“The pitch did have a part in the draw to an extent, but everyone is still a professional.
“You shouldn’t worry about it too much. When we got here, the field was under water, we didn’t think we were playing, but lucky for us the boys got their caps and we played a good game and got a draw.”