Graham Arnold got everything he wanted from the Socceroos’ opening fixture in stage three of World Cup 2022 qualifying.
The Chinese were poor, the Aussies steady throughout and three goals brought the three points that saw the quest for a fifth consecutive World Cup get off on the most assured and correct foot.
There were few negatives, perhaps Martin Boyle’s apparent hamstring twinge and a few examples of the Socceroos’ attack being less than cohesive would have Arnold a little concerned.
However, as a qualifier played in all the trappings and uncertainty of a continuing global pandemic, the performance could hardly be scored at anything less than a nine out of ten.
Now the team heads to Hanoi to face world number 92 Vietnam, a match seemingly well within the grasp of the Australians but a dangerous one none the less.
Japan probably felt similarly about their opening match against Oman and walked away with diddly squat; threatening their qualifying campaign right from the off.
With the Socceroos and Saudi Arabia scoring first up wins, Japan may well need three points against both at some stage of the qualifiers, particularly if Australia and the Saudi’s deal with Oman on both occasions.
Of course, there are a lot of ifs and buts in there, but it is Japan with the serious headache in the early stages of qualifying and the other two favoured nations in the group sitting pretty heading into the second round of matches.
With a month slated between this evening’s match and the Socceroos next fixture against Oman, the manager has no reason to rest, nurse or manage players. Yet it is highly likely that he will.
Aaron Mooy began the match against China PR on the bench and after looking reasonably sharp upon his entry to the game, will most likely start against the Vietnamese. So too should Mitchell Duke after buzzing around well in the second half, with Adam Taggart not really appearing to be anywhere near his best.
Boyle’s tweak will almost certainly see him left out of the squad. Riley McGree and Daniel Arzani looming as the likely replacements, with a reshuffle up top required considering the absence of the Hibernian attacker.
Awer Mabil continues to provide the ability to seize attacking opportunities that the Socceroos so desperately need and will most likely be asked the shoulder that responsibility for the second time in five days. Ajdin Hrustic will most likely be asked to do the same after a stunning performance against China and Mooy could well join him in defensive midfield duties, with Jackson Irvine potentially returning to the bench.
Ange Postecoglou took far too long to introduce Tom Rogic into the fray when Celtic met Old Firm rivals Rangers on August 29 and his sparkling performance in Socceroo colours against the Chinese showed exactly why. Rogic appears rejuvenated under his new manager in Scotland and last Friday, played with a confidence we have not seen for some years.
Arnold could well be tempted to deploy Rogic from the off once again, knowing full well that his class, distribution and presence on the ball could well be too much for the Vietnamese to handle. Leaving the Celtic midfielder out could be a dangerous move.
With some changes certain, keeping a steady central attacking player in the eleven may be the prudent move, particularly considering Boyle’s absence and a likely change up top with Duke in for Taggart.
Still in pre-season, a second match for Rhyan Grant in five days may well be a bridge too far. Sadly, Arnold has few options at right back at the best of times and may well ask his “go to” man for one more big effort.
The now de-mulletted Grant has done so before and rarely lets his mentor down. Based on history, its likely Arnold will go with the Sydney FC champion.
Despite the rumoured threats that were supposed to be presented by the Chinese front line last Friday, the Socceroo back four handled them with ease.
Harry Souttar will likely start again, with Arnold certain to utilise his aerial attacking skill, Trent Sainsbury was efficient, organised and decisive, while Aziz Behich did exactly what Aziz Behich does on the left and worked beautifully with Hrustic ahead of him.
Potentially, Arnold’s key decision could be whether he goes into this game with the proven yet slightly underdone Mathew Ryan between the sticks, or throws an in-form Lawrence Thomas into the fray.
Ryan was rarely challenged against the Chinese and should Vietnam pressure the Australian defence more consistently, could be tested due to having little football under his belt over the last month.
Arnold will no doubt make changes, yet wholesale ones in a match that could see the Socceroos scoot away to a tasty six points from six to open the qualifying campaign would not be wise.