It wasn’t always pretty but the Socceroos got the job done with a 1-0 win over Vietnam in Hanoi to make it two wins from two to restart their World Cup qualifying campaign.
Australia stands alone at the top of Group B after Rhyan Grant’s first ever goal in a national team jersey saw Graham Arnold’s men grind out a 1-0 win in energy-sapping conditions.
A moment @RhyanGrant will never forget ????
The @Socceroos fullback nods home his first international goal to give us a first-half lead over Vietnam!
— Socceroos (@Socceroos) September 7, 2021
The Sydney FC defender stooped to head home Ajdin Hrustic’s cross shortly before halftime, after the Socceroos bossed possession but struggled to break down Vietnam’s deep-lying defence.
Hrustic looked the most likely to bust open the packed Vietnamese rearguard, but the Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder eventually faded after a bright first-half showing.
Victory marked Australia’s tenth qualifying win in a row – a feat matched only by Germany, Spain and Mexico in World Cup history.
Grant was the first to admit the performance was far from perfect but said the three points were all that mattered.
“I sort of just snuck in at the back post. I think Ajdin put in a nice cross and it sort of just bounced up for me,” Grant said after the game.
“I didn’t know whether to square it or go for goal, but I just went for glory then and (I was) lucky it snuck in at the back post.”
Coach Graham Arnold admitted there’s room for improvement but said he was delighted with his team’s resolve.
“I was very happy with the effort,” Arnold said. “The performance obviously could have been better but you’ve got to look at the circumstances and the conditions we played in.
“At the end of the day, it’s another clean sheet and the effort was fantastic.”
Arnold was full of praise for his former Sydney FC club-mate Grant, with the defender set to delay his return to Australia and remain overseas to maintain fitness for the campaign.
“I’m so grateful for Rhyan himself,” Arnold said. “One of the only A-League players to put his hand up to come and he is so proud to play for the country, he will do anything to play for the country.
“I know from the personal conversations I had with him beforehand 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’ and he has done a great job, both games.”
Vietnam created a few half-chances in front of an empty My Dinh National Stadium but lacked the composure to genuinely test Mat Ryan in goal.
Midfield schemer Nguyen Quang Hai turned in an enterprising first-half display, but the few chances his side fashioned were wasted by Phan Van Duc and Nguyen Tien Linh up front.
The result made it eight clean sheets out of ten for an Aussie outfit currently on a roll.
Harry Souttar has proved a real find since making his debut in 2019, but Trent Sainsbury reminded fans of why he was once the first name on the team sheet.
“The defending starts from the front and our central defensive pairing was great again,” Arnold said after full-time.
“Obviously (Vietnam) had a couple of half-chances but the boys put their bodies on the line to block shots and that was fantastic.”
Sainsbury admitted the challenging conditions played their part in the scrappy affair.
“Humidity is quite intense, the pitch is not great. Very ‘fluffy’ I guess is the word you could use,” Sainsbury said of the pot-marked and spongy pitch.
“They had a couple of half-chances when they were getting a bit desperate (on the) counter-attack and that sort of thing, but overall… three points away in Vietnam, a clean sheet, I’ll take that every day of the week.”
Sainsbury went so far as to suggest that better conditions would help produce better Socceroos performances.
“I think you can see when we play on a good pitch, we can outplay any team in the world,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to playing on good pitches with this team because we can produce some exciting football and score some good goals.”
Excitement might have been in short supply in a largely forgettable second half, but few could argue with the result.
When it comes to flying starts, the Socceroos have nailed the brief.