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Syria killers: Irvine strike sends Socceroos into Asian Cup knockout stages

18th January, 2024
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18th January, 2024
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While serious doubts remain over the Socceroos’ ability to scale the heights of 2015 and win the Asian Cup, they have cleared the first hurdle by progressing through Group B with a game to spare in Qatar.

A 1-0 win over Syria, via Jackson Irvine’s second goal of the tournament, continued the recent history of tight battles between the two countries and gave the Socceroos a maximum six points from six after beating India 2-0 in their opener.

As with that contest, the Australians overcame a laboured first half to score in the second. Irvine’s goal was made by Martin Boyle, who was having a quiet night off the the right side of attack but produced a cheeky nutmeg to leave the outstanding Ammar Ramadan sprawling and made a surging run brim full of intent.

There was plenty of fortune in how the ball bobbled up off a defender but Irvine’s turn past Jalil Elías in the area was superb and he flicked the ball past the advancing goalkeeper Ahmad Madanieh to score the only goal in the 59th minute.

The goal took Irvine to 11 for the Socceroos – amazingly the same number as Mark Viduka.

“You’ve got to be in there to score,” said Irvine, who had threatened twice before scoring the winner.

“We’ve got good quality in the final third and wide areas and if you get in there enough times sometimes they drop for you.

“They made it very difficult and in these games that first goal is so important. We probably should have put the game to bed – we had a lot of open spaces after we scored the goal so that’s something to work on. But a clean sheet is the most important thing.”

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Graham Arnold had made three changes two minutes before the breakthough and Riley McGree once again brought the energy that broke open the game against India.

Jordan Bos won a start after his goal in the opening game and impressed – spending some time on the right as well his preferred left flank – before being removed as part of the 57th minute change up.

 Ammar Ramadan of Syria and Jordan Bos of Australia compete for the ball during the AFC Asian Cup Group B match between Syria and Australia at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on January 18, 2024 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images)

Ammar Ramadan of Syria and Jordan Bos of Australia compete for the ball during the AFC Asian Cup Group B match between Syria and Australia at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on January 18, 2024 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images)

Unlike India, Syria had produced plenty of threat on the counter, and could easily have led in just the fifth minute as Pablo Sabbag was given far too much time in the Socceroos’ box. He tried to deceive Mat Ryan by looking to the far post but shooting to the near and the ball smacked off the woodwork with the keeper beaten.

Australia was creating too little from open play and Connor Metcalfe’s set piece radar was off. Irvine stretched and headed wide from one Metcalfe freekick and just failed to reach another chance at the back post.

Arnold will be pleased that Australia was relatively untroubled after going one up, although Ryan almost suffered a howler.

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A long range volley from Mouaiad Al Ajaan should have been an easy gather for Ryan but he spilled the shot goalward scrambling desperately to save his embarrassment and protect the three points.

Ryan came into the tournament with a facial injury and was wearing a face mask – although he said that wasn’t a factor in his heart-in-mouth moment.

“Not at all. I’ve made plenty of mistakes not wearing a face mask – it’s just one of those things,” Ryan said.

Australia had the best chances in the final stages to extend their lead as Syria tired. Bruno Fornaroli just failed to reach a cross from the right while Samuel Silvera wasted a clear chance to set up McGree off an astute Irvine cross.

Harry Souttar charged through from the back to create another opportunity and was furious when a poor pass from Silvera squandered the opening.

While the Socceroos aren’t quite clicking as they’d like, Ryan said the team had a “tremendous amount of belief” that they can go ahead and win the tournament.

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“There’s a process involved in doing that and we ticked another box today,” said Ryan.

“They’re tenacious, they’re relentless. They leave it all out there and today was no different,” he said of the Syrians. Australia has drawn one and won three by a single margin in their four match ups.

“We expected a physical battle. We expected them to be direct but we managed to deal with all the scenarios and get the clean sheet and get the win.

“Football is not easy. You’ve got two teams out there trying their best to make it difficult for the other. We probed on many occasions, we had quite a few entries into their final third and into their box and we were probably unlucky not to put one or two more chances away.

“All of a sudden if we’re looking at a 3-0 or 4-0 scoreline everyone’s thinking it’s a lot more convincing results wise.

“We got the job done, defensively we were strong and we pride ourselves on that and we get the victory and move on.”

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