Talking Points: Socceroos 0(4) Uzbekistan 0(2) – Maty Ryan stands tall in...

Talking Points: Socceroos 0(4) Uzbekistan 0(2) – Maty Ryan stands tall in nail-biting win


It took more than 120 dour, cagey minutes, but eventually the Socceroos overcame a dogged Uzbekistan to reach the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup with a 4-2 penalty shootout win early on Tuesday morning. 

And it was goalkeeper Mat Ryan who was the hero, brilliantly saving two penalties to earn the reigning Asian champions passage to the last eight of the tournament with Mathew Leckie netting the winning kick.

Graham Arnold’s men enjoyed the bulk of the play, particularly in the second half, but were not able to break down a White Wolves side determined to frustrate and ultimately cause a boilover.

No goal came in 90 minutes of regulation and then stoppage time, so it was down to a battle of wits to decide which nation would progress, and in the end the Socceroos outlasted their challengers.

Progression papers over familiar failure

A place in the quarter-finals is what we all wanted – really, at any cost and however possible – but it cannot mask the failing of another test set by a team ready to sit back and defend, looking to strike in transition.

Uzbekistan did their homework on the Socceroos and despite Arnold’s claims of even more intel on the White Wolves in Australia camp than the Uzbeks themselves, Hector Cuper went more than toe to toe with his counterpart in the dugout.

And the Uzbeks so nearly got what they wanted, taking the game the distance and looking to earn victory from the penalty spot. It was only the Socceroos’ mettle from 12 yards that proved the difference.

Arnold and assistant Rene Meulensteen still must find a way to unlock deep defences with regularity. On matchday one, Jordan showed the Socceroos are vulnerable against such a setup and that narrative is likely to continue into the tournament.

Asian Cup fancies South Korea are on Australia’s side of the draw, a team those in green and gold know all too well from fierce competition in the region, as well as a pre-tournament friendly back in October.

Then, the Taeguk Warriors – like many a foe in Asia – were perfectly content to sit back and strike in transition, with only a tumbled Massimo Luongo goal sparing the Socceroos defeat. If anything, their disciplined setup will only be tougher to pick apart.

Ryan has his own Mark Schwarzer moment

The most famous goalkeeping display in Socceroos colours was that of Schwarzer back on that night against Uruguay in November 2005. His gloves enabled Australia to secure a cherished berth at the World Cup in Germany the following year.

While this fixture was not on such a grand scale, no further context is needed to illustrate its importance. Last 16, Asian Cup, title defence on the line. It is the type of match in which the big players must step up, and step up they did.

Ryan will get the plaudits, saving two spot kicks in the penalty shootout, including the somewhat rare moment of a goalkeeper holding firm in a central position to deny the kick taker.

Returning forward Leckie too had to stand up. The goalkeeper did his part, so there was responsibility on those outfield to deliver their part of the bargain, which they did. Aziz Behich’s second-up miss was overcome.

Credit must also be given to the maligned Robbie Kruse. Already under stinging pressure from home, the VfL Bochum man lost his place in the starting XI for the second match running in favour of in-form Chris Ikonomidis.

Kruse was thrown on in place of Awer Mabil, and up stepped the 30-year-old – a veteran of three Asian Cups now – for a spot kick. It flew in calmly and expertly, and is a moment that should herald praise.

What’s the equation from here?

Next up in the last eight is host nation UAE, who defeated a spirited Kyrgyzstan 3-2 after extra time. It was another example of a UAE side that has not been all that convincing this tournament having garnered just one win in the group stage.

Al Abyad appear to be missing the influence of star man Omar Abdulrahman, who was ruled out of the tournament through injury.

Should the Socceroos win that match, a crash course with South Korea or even in the impressive Qatar has been set.