Australia manager Graham Arnold praised his side for lessons learnt from Sunday’s shock opening Asian Cup defeat to Jordan, as the continental champions bounced back with a 3-0 victory against Palestine in Dubai on Saturday.
The title-holders, who lifted the trophy for the first time four years ago on home soil, enjoyed a relatively nerveless afternoon at the Rashid Stadium, scoring twice in three minutes midway through the first half to set them on their way. Substitute Apostolos Giannou added a third right at the death.
Understandably, Arnold was pleased with the response to his team's surprise 1-0 defeat to Jordan in Al Ain six days previously. Australia now sit second in Group B, three points off Jordan, who on Friday became the first country to qualify for the knockout stages.
Australia will join them in the last 16 should they defeat Syria on Tuesday.
“Palestine pretty much tried to play the same game plan as Jordan did,” said Arnold, who began his second stint with his national team this summer. “We obviously haven’t been that long together - the players didn’t have a long camp like some of the other countries, so it’s taken a bit of time to get things going.
“But as I said after the Jordan game, when you lose you learn. And we learned a lot from that day. We went onto the training pitch, we worked hard to fix that issue if the teams play quite defensive.
“Now it’s all about the Syria game. We’ll get back on the training field, and recover well. We’ll go into the Syria game with all guns blazing and expecting to win.
"We’ll get better and better as we go. There’s been a lot of changes in the team, a lot of changes in the staff, so we’re a new team, and will still grow.”
Australia went ahead on 18 minutes through Jamie Maclaren’s first goal for his country. The on-loan Hibernian striker, making his 10th appearance, supplied a sublime glanced header to Tom Rogic’s inswinging cross from the right.
Two minutes later, the Aussies doubled their advantage. This time, Chris Ikonomidis’s deep cross found Awer Mabil at Palestine’s back post, the winger stealing in unmarked to finish comfortably past goalkeeper Rami Hamada.
The victory was furnished right at the death by Giannou, when he nodded home Ikonomidis’s cross from a short corner in injury time. Australia had also earlier struck the woodwork through Rhyan Grant’s deflected cross.
Arnold paid particular tribute to Maclaren, Ikonomidis and Rogic, the latter playing despite a broken hand and sprained ankle. The defending champions will need the Celtic playmaker at his best in the final group game against Syria who, despite taking only one point thus far, represent formidable and familiar opponents.
The two sides met in October 2017 in the play-off for the 2018 World Cup, with Australia narrowly prevailing 3-2 on aggregate. The second leg went to extra time.
“This will be a difficult game,” Arnold said. “We know them well; we played against Syria in the World Cup qualifier. I wasn’t here but my players do know them. We’ll recover, analyse them, and go out expecting to win the game.”
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