The route to the 2026 FIFA World Cup has been made easier for the Socceroos already, with the number of available spots doubled, and it couldn’t have started in simpler style than a 7-0 thrashing of Bangladesh at AAMI Park.
A Jamie Maclaren hat-trick, two from Mitch Duke and one apiece for Harry Souttar and Brandon Borrello were more than enough to see off a comfortably outmatched Bangladesh side that barely crossed the halfway line.
Graham Arnold will judge his side on more competitive games than this, but as starts go, it’s hard to argue with what he saw today.
His three frontline strikers grabbed goals, he handed a debut to another in Kusini Yengi and escaped without any injuries.
“The boys did exceptionally well,” said the coach. “Overall I think we could have doubled the score at least and had another four or five goals, but I’m very proud of the boys.”
It was a strong return for Melbourne City striker Maclaren, who had missed the last international break due to the birth of his child.
“Not bad, in the place where I do my business,” he said.
“Seven goals and could have been more for myself as well, but we move on with three points.
“You always strive for better and we know we know we could have scored a lot more and the boys in the back were all solid.
“I’m not sure Matty (Ryan) had a save to make, but part of the team and we know the next game will be a lot harder.”
Australia’s campaign continues on Wednesday 1am AEDT against Palestine, who drew 0-0 with Lebanon overnight.
It was an auspicious day in Australian football, with both the anniversary of John Aloisi’s iconic penalty in 2005 and a tribute to the heroes of the 1974 World Cup, but suffice to say, this was never likely to challenge those two for a place in the history books.
Bangladeshis are, on average, the ninth shortest nation in the world and it looked as if the Socceroos analysts had brought their World Factbook rather than Wyscout with an barrage of crossing that ruthlessly underlined the Australian advantage in the air.
Souttar, all 1.98m of him, opened the scoring just four minutes in with an imposing header from a Craig Goodwin free kick.
Borrello, starting up front alongside Duke, tapped in a Connor Metcalfe cross and might have had another had he not planted his header directly at keeper Mitul Marma, with Goodwin again the supplier.
He then fed Keanu Bacchus, who missed the target, before Duke bodied a Bangaldesh defender out of the way to head home with comical simplicity.
The hero of Al Wakrah would get another before being withdrawn the break, turning home the rebound after Borrello’s volley had cannoned off the post.
Duke was replaced by Maclaren, never one to miss out when goals are going around, and he struck almost immediately.
Again, it was a cross, with the striker reconnecting his Melbourne City partnership with Jordy Bos to tap home from the middle of the goal.
Only Marma was keeping Bangladesh even slightly competitive, but he could do little to stop Maclaren making it six with 20 minutes to play.
The keeper was beaten again by Maclaren, but had some help from the hosts, with debutant Yengi inadvertently blocking the shot.
The hat-trick would eventually come, and again, all he had to do was hang around the six yard box and wait for the cross.
This time it was Lewis Miller from the right who got in behind, from where he picked out the hometown favourite.
Aidan O’Neill, one of the subs, outpaced the Bangladeshi defence late on to charge into the box and win a penalty – but, perhaps appropriately given his superb showing in the face of a constant barrage, Mitul saved from Massimo Luongo.
Later, Palestine played out a goalless draw with Lebanon in a World Cup qualifier played behind closed doors in the United Arab Emirates due to the Israel-Gaza conflict.
The match had been scheduled to be played in the Lebanese capital of Beirut but Israel’s response to the attack by Hamas on October 7 caused officials to switch Thursday’s match to Sharjah.
The whole Palestinian team – who will next play Australia’s Socceroos on November 21 in Kuwait – wore traditional keffiyeh, chequered black and white scarves, before the national anthems and there was a minute’s silence for those killed in the conflict before kick-off.
Despite starting official training only four days ago, the Palestinians started the game well.
Yet Lebanon captain Hassan Maatouk had the first chance after 12 minutes, with his long-range shot going wide, before Atta Gaber responded for the Palestinians with a header on the half-hour mark that went over.
Karim Darwich missed a good chance for Lebanon three minutes into the second half and Palestine, ranked 94th by FIFA, had a Tamer Seyam shot saved by Lebanon goalkeeper Moustafa Matar.
Lebanon’s Ali Al Haj shot into the side netting after 87 minutes before Matar saved Oday Dabbagh’s close-range shot with his outstretched leg in the final minute.