Coach Graham Arnold has urged the Socceroos to significantly improve after starting their Asian Cup campaign with an underwhelming 2-0 win over the world’s No.102 side India.
Australia had intended to start the tournament with a bang against the group B minnows in Doha on Saturday (Sunday AEDT).
Instead, they only fizzled at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium until Jackson Irvine pounced on an error from India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and scored in the 50th minute.
Riley McGree then teed up fellow substitute Jordy Bos to score his first international goal and effectively wrap up victory in the 73rd minute.
It was Arnold’s first opening-match win at his third Asian Cup in charge but he was far from happy.
“I can honestly say that we’ve got to improve a lot more than that,” he said.
“We’re here to win the Asian Cup and to reach the stars, you have to have high expectations and put those expectations on the boys and get them to believe in what we can do.
“I have to give full credit to India.
“I thought that there was probably a little bit too much excitement (from us) first half for the competition to start, but after we got to halftime and showed them some good clips about what they’re doing well, second half we did very well.
Australia had 14 first-half shots but just two on target as India, with plenty of support in the stands, scrambled brilliantly defensively and were aggressive on the counter.
But the game again underlined Australia’s difficulties with unlocking packed defences.
“Bahrain was a perfect preparation game for us because they sat back and made it difficult as well,” Arnold said.
“Obviously, India tonight did the same and we’ll no doubt get ready for that again against Syria.”
The Socceroos particularly lacked attacking incisiveness in a sluggish first half, despite dominating possession and racking up 11 corners.
“One disappointment probably was our set pieces, because we had quite a lot of them and we’re very strong with set pieces,” Arnold said.
“We had 11 corners in the first half and with not much variety. So that’s something that we need to improve on – and we will.”
Socceroos captain and goalkeeper Mat Ryan returned from a fractured cheekbone donning a Batman-like black protective face mask, but he was rarely challenged.
Arnold selected Aziz Behich over Bos at left-back, while newcomer Gethin Jones started at right-back.
Kye Rowles was picked alongside Harry Souttar at centre-back ahead of Cameron Burgess.
Australia started the second half with more intent and broke through when Singh Sandhu parried a Boyle cross straight to Irvine, who chested the ball down and made no mistake with a pressure-relieving left-footed finish.
The Socceroos played far better after the goal and kicked up another gear when Arnold turned to Riley McGree and Sam Silvera in the 64th minute, then Bos and Bruno Fornaroli in the 72nd.
Shortly after, McGree danced into the box from the right wing then cut back for Bos to tap home with his first touch, with Fornaroli’s clever run dragging India’s defenders away from the young gun.
The match was officiated by Japan’s Yoshimi Yamashita, who became the first female referee at the Asian Cup.
Group B rivals Uzbekistan and Syria fought out a 0-0 draw on Sunday morning (AEDT), with Australia next in action against Syria on Thursday night.