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Arnold full of praise, but wants further improvement

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Dubai: Australia head coach Graham Arnold gave his charges a resounding tick of approval, but insists there is still plenty of room for improvement after they revived their AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 knockout stage hopes with a consummate 3-0 win over Palestine.

Early goals from Jamie Maclaren and Awer Mabil got the ball rolling for the defending champions, before Apostolos Giannou came off the bench to add a layer of gloss to the scoreline in the final moments.

Australia's showing was a vast improvement from their 1-0 Matchday One defeat to Jordan, with the the inclusion of Chris Ikonomidis and Jackson Irvine paying instant dividends for Arnold's men.

Speaking after the match, Arnold paid tribute to his side, but warned that he expects their performances to become even stronger as the tournament goes on.

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"(Selecting) Jackson Irvine was a tactical decision, because Massimo Luongo was playing fantastic," he revealed. "It was more about; we knew how Palestine were going to play those long balls and Jackson is great in the air, but also on set-pieces."

"Chris Ikonomidis (pictured below) had a fantastic game. He was excellent today. It was a very young front line with a lot of energy from Mabil and Jamie (Maclaren), and Tommy Rogic was outstanding with what he's been going through (with injury) in the last few days.

"At the end of the day it was a pleasing performance, but I expect that we will get better and better as we go.

"I said after the Jordan game; 'When you lose, you learn' and we learned a lot from that game. We went on the training pitch, we worked hard to fix the issue of if teams play with a packed defence and now its all about the Syria game.

"We expect to come out with all guns blazing."


Group B - Matchday Two: Palestine vs Australia

The effectivenesss of Australia's attacking trio of Mabil, Ikonomidis and Maclaren (pictured below) was a welcome sign for Arnold, who singled out Maclaren for special praise after the pacey striker's first senior international goal.

"I love Jamie as a player," said the A-League Championship-winning coach.

"The way he moves in the box is always very, very good and he's just needed a bit of belief and a bit of confidence and we, the coaching staff, give him that because he does a great job for the team up front defensively with pressing and working hard for the team first and foremost.

"Also for Apo (Giannou) to come on and score the way he did, it's very promising."

Rogic, too, turned in a terrific performance for Australia, providing the assist for Maclaren's opener and creating a number of openings in the Palestinian defensive half. 

It had been public knowledge that the Celtic star was recovering from a broken hand, but Arnold revealed that hadn't been his only injury concern in the lead up to the match.

"Not only did he have a broken hand, but he also had a sprained ankle from the game against Jordan, but that's how much pride he has in playing for the country," Arnold said.

"He loves playing for Australia. He's very proud to play for Australia. He's got through a little bit, obviously with the hand situation, but he was fantastic today."

While Australian fans breathed a collective sigh of relief after registering their first win at UAE 2019, Palestine's hopes of reaching the knockout stage for the first time in history suffered a significant blow.

The West Asian side's plan to soak up Australia's pressure and make their attacking inroads on the break failed due to individual errors, according to head coach Nourredine Ould Ali.

"Generally speaking in analysing the game, we had a plan which would include strong defence and also to depend on the counter attack," explained the Algerian.

"This was good in the first 20 minutes, but then we had individual mistakes which affected the path of the game. We also had pressure from the opponent: 100 percent pressure."

Despite a defeat which Ould Ali described as 'heavy', is it still within the realms of possibility for Palestine to reach the last 16, but the 46-year-old is aware that a win against already-qualified is now Jordan compulsory if they are to do so.

"Looking to the future, if we want to progress (in the tournament) we need to make a result and fight hard."

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