In their first match following the 2022 World Cup, and one year to the day since their last match on home soil, the Socceroos defeated Ecuador 3-1 in an entertaining affair at CommBank Stadium.
First-half strikes by Jackson Irvine and Awer Mabil either side of Felix Torres’ header were enough to secure the victory for Graham Arnold’s side, before substitute Garang Kuol put the icing on the cake with his first international goal late on in front of a somewhat disappointing 20,668 fans.
Arnold, who was handed a four-year contract extension in January to oversee the 2026 World Cup cycle, made three changes to the side that was knocked out in the round of 16 by Argentina, with Aiden O’Neill coming into the starting 11 for his national team debut in place of the injured Aaron Mooy, and Craig Goodwin and Awer Mabil also earning starts.
O’Neill’s club teammate, the very promising left-back Jordan Bos, had to settle for a place among the substitutes, as did Adelaide United live wire Nestory Irankunda and Manchester City prospect Alexander Robertson.
“Let’s not get carried away,” Arnold said post-game, tempering expectations on the exciting youth who are chomping at the bit to get minutes in the green and gold jersey.
“These kids need a heap of experience, and plenty of game time for their clubs. The senior boys are doing it every week, and they can see the example that they’re setting to the young ones. But as I’ve said – many times – I believe in young Australian talent.”
Australia struggled to maintain the ball early, with some sloppy passing from Mat Ryan and the back four giving away possession cheaply.
Brighton & Hove Albion man Moises Caicedo was making himself known with intricate passing, building on his form in the Premier League this season.
Ryan was called into action from José Cifuentes’ header off another Caicedo ball, but it went straight into the AZ Alkmaar gloveman’s chest.
Awer Mabil was brought down in the area as Australia made their first real foray forward but any appeals for a spot-kick were quickly waved away.
The crowd inside CommBank Stadium wouldn’t have to wait much for longer for the opening goal, however, with Mitchell Duke meeting Goodwin’s terrific dead-ball delivery and squaring for Jackson Irvine who made no mistake from eight yards out.
A goal mostly against the run of play but the Socceroos were ahead all the same – Arnold’s sides are always a threat from set pieces.
Mostly targeting Australia’s right side, this time Ecuador went to the opposite wing and found some joy, Aziz Behich earning the first yellow card of the evening for a cynical foul.
After Australia had initially dealt with the resulting set-piece, Jeremy Sarmiento’s searching delivery into the area found Felix Torres who dispatched a close-range header and levelled the international friendly.
Sarmiento’s night would soon be over as he was subbed off injured.
The visitors’ lead wouldn’t last long, with Mabil, who’d been rarely sighted, restoring Australia’s advantage. Goalscorer Irvine capitalised on Ecuador’s sloppy passing at the back, before Mabil unleashed a thunderous strike giving Moises Ramirez no chance.
After coming out of the blocks slowly, the Socceroos had certainly lifted their level as the first half wore on, and deserved their lead as the two sides headed to the dressing room.
As the second stanza got underway Arnold resisted the temptation to overhaul his line-up, but at the hour mark he made a double change with the recalled Brandon Borrello replacing Duke, and 19-year-old Man City rising star Andrew Robertson handed his Socceroos debut in the engine room.
The frenetic pace of the opening 45 minutes had given way to more conservative play. Ecuador boss Felix Sanchez, who had led Qatar to a points-less 2022 World Cup campaign, shook up his side with a triple substitution as he searched for a way back into the contest.
A goalmouth scramble almost saw the hosts double their advantage but Ecuador managed to defend their lines.
Arnold then went back to his bench, calling upon exciting duo Garang Kuol and Marco Tilio for the final quarter of an hour.
And it wasn’t long before the former Central Coast Mariner made an impact, sealing Australia’s win with the first international – and probably the easiest – goal of his career after Behich teed him up. Replays appeared to show Kuol in an illegal position, but with no VAR in place the goal stood.
Overall it was an impressive showing from the Socceroos in the first hit-out following their excellent campaign in Qatar. Arnold has been handed the reins for the next World Cup cycle, and has a solid if unspectacular squad at his disposal, with quite a few tantalising youngsters like Robertson, Bos, Irankunda and O’Neill looking to break through.