Mat Ryan
Captain Mat Ryan is "touch-and-go" to be fit for Australia's opening Asian Cup match. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS
  • soccer

Socceroos’ Ryan still touch-and-go for Asian Cup opener

Anna Harrington January 7, 2024

Socceroos captain and first-choice goalkeeper Mat Ryan remains “touch-and-go” to feature in Australia’s Asian Cup opener against India, with Joe Gauci looming as his deputy if required.

Ryan is back fully training after fracturing his cheekbone last month but was ruled out of Saturday night’s (Sunday AEDT) final friendly against Bahrain in Abu Dhabi, a week out from the start of Australia’s campaign in Qatar.

Adelaide United shotstopper Gauci got the nod over Western Sydney’s Lawrence Thomas in goal, winning his second cap.

Gauci, 23, was rarely tested in the 2-0 win, when the Socceroos took the lead via an own goal from Amine Benaddi, forced by a Craig Goodwin squaring ball, in the 35th minute.

Mitch Duke added another in the 61st minute at the Baniyas Stadium, nodding home from Goodwin’s set-up header.

Australia play India on January 13, Syria five days later then Uzbekistan on January 23.

When asked if Ryan would be fit to face India, Arnold told AAP: “I think so. 

“He’ll be touch-and-go. 

“But he’s training fully and it’s great to have him here, obviously, for his experience. 

“He had a great conversation with Joe Gauci today about playing for the nation, but also this experience and it was good.

“It was good to get Joe Gauci on the pitch and give him that opportunity. Obviously in our goalkeeping department we’ve got to build depth as well. And I thought he did very well.”

Arnold reiterated the decision to start Gauci over Thomas was down to goalkeeping coach John Crawley.

Mitch Duke on target
 Striker Mitch Duke was on target for the Socceroos in the Abu Dhabi friendly. Image by AP PHOTO 

The victory, as Australia dominated possession but had just seven shots and struggled to create clear-cut chances, offered a testing insight into some of the similarly deep-lying defences they could face in Qatar.

But Arnold wasn’t overly concerned, instead relishing the testing friendly.

“Physically they were bigger than what we expected,” he said.

“But, for us, it’s the perfect fixture to have before the Asian Cup because when we play against these type of nations, they sit back. 

“Most nations we played against in the last 12 months haven’t really done that. 

“You saw that we were getting better and better as the game went on, breaking them down but also making sure that we weren’t hit on the counter attack, which they like to do. 

“So it was probably the perfect fixture to have before we go into this Asian Cup and no doubt we’ll get quite a number of teams playing like that as well.”

Goodwin had a hand in both goals while Sammy Silvera impressed on his first start.

Jackson Irvine was captain in Ryan’s absence.

On debut, Gethin Jones started at right-back and was solid.

“For a guy to make his debut and for a guy who’s never played with us before or been with us, I thought he did exceptionally well, especially defensively,” Arnold said.

Arnold had stressed the game was an opportunity for players like out-of-season Duke to gain valuable match fitness.

Pleasingly, midfielder Riley McGree returned from injury as a second-half substitute, while the Socceroos avoided any new fitness concerns.