Australia have finalised preparations for January’s Asian Cup, thrashing a slow-starting and ultimately hapless Oman 5-0 in Dubai on Sunday.
The Socceroos coasted from start to finish at the Maktoum Bin Rashid Stadium, with first half goals from Andrew Nabbout, Chris Ikonomidis and Andrew Nabbout doing the early damage before Milos Degenek and Jackson Irvine continued the rout after half time.
Urawa Red Diamonds forward Nabbout, who has been out of season for a month or so, made the most of a Saad Al Mukhaini error in the box, smartly converting what was a gift from the Omani.
Just three minutes later, in the 17th minute, Chris Ikonomidis, who was given the nod from the get-go, netted off the woodwork to finish off a slick move started in midfield by Mustafa Amini.
Awer Mabil continued the rout 24 minutes in, capitalising on more lax defending with a simple tap-in for a 3-0 advantage.
Ikonomidis then got an assist 13 minutes after the interval, playing a corner to the feet of Degenek. The Red Star Belgrade defender, who has been the Socceroos’ most used player domestically, flicked the ball into the far corner.
Andrew Nabbout & Chris Ikonomidis strike early for Australia!
— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) December 30, 2018
Substitute Irvine rounded out the scoring, smashing home from close-range to continue his strong goalscoring form and make it a handful of strikes.
Graham Arnold’s final chance to experiment
The manager used his final international friendly before the Asian Cup to get a look at some of his fringe players of the likes of Ikonomidis, Amini and Rhyan Grant, now with just a week until the tournament begins.
Arnold will be pleased his men were able to find the net four times, adding further weight to his argument that goals are not a problem under his tenure, but the 55-year-old would have been hoping for a sterner test against a fellow entrant.
Pim Verbeek’s Oman had been undefeated in 12 prior internationals and even lifted the Gulf Cup, but what they dished up was hardly reminiscent of a team in winning form and often resembled witches hats. It makes assessing progress difficult.
But as the old adage goes, you can only beat who you play, and Australia did exactly that. Leads of four goals or more have been scarce. Ikonomidis did his chances of slotting in for the injured Mathew Leckie no harm.
Come game one against Jordan, it is difficult to see the same XI remaining in place. Massimo Luongo and Josh Risdon are likely to be recalled, while Irvine threw his name into contention with a double in his final Hull City match before jetting out and by scoring on the night.
Mark Milligan back to midfield
Arnold pushed captain Milligan back into midfield after a lengthy spell of work in the centre of defence, spanning back to the beginning of Bert van Marwijk’s brief tenure in charge.
Though Milligan regularly admitted he was happy to play wherever asked, the Hibernian player made no secret of his preference to play in midfield and he was finally restored to that position, now playing regularly in Scotland.
FYI re Rogic… he was not training with the team yesterday and was told his knee had flared up after the flight. Nothing serious, but my sense is if he played vs Rangers, he would have been under duress and/or pulling up sore even closer to the Asian Cup #AUSvOMA
— Vince Rugari (@VinceRugari) December 30, 2018
Milligan reverting to midfield adds what was lost with Mile Jedinak’s retirement; that is a genuine enforcer in the middle. His presence there will allow the likes of Luongo and Irvine to operate in a box to box role.
Pushing Milligan higher up the pitch also created an opening for Degenek, who is the highest earner of club minutes in the Socceroos squad. To that end, he has accumulated 2,937 minutes with Red Star in all competitions.
The striker conundrum
Such was the porousness of the Oman back line that we did not really learn anything more about who will lead the line in the Asian Cup group stage and beyond. Nabbout did his part to nail down a place, scoring smartly to kick off the scoring.
Jamie Maclaren was thrown on in the second half and manufactured a few sighters but did not really test Faiyz Al Rusheidi with the game dead and buried.