Leckie delighted with impact on return

Mathew Leckie praised Australia's medical staff for getting him fit for the knockout stages of the Asian Cup, after scoring the winning penalty that earned victory against Uzbekistan.

The winger missed the Socceroos' three Group B matches with a hamstring injury, but coach Graham Arnold had remained confident he would be able to feature during the tournament.

He was named on the bench for the Round of 16 clash in Al Ain and was introduced on the hour mark.

Leckie was able to get through not just to the end of normal time but also extra time, and then delivered the goods when he had a chance to score a penalty.

After Mat Ryan had made two saves during the shootout, Leckie's spot-kick took the Socceroos through with a 4-2 scoreline to set up a quarter-final clash with hosts the United Arab Emirates.

The 27-year-old, who had torn his hamstring while playing for German club Hertha Berlin before the tournament, said after the game: "(It means) everything. For me to just be playing today, it's super-special.

"We've worked super-hard, me and Phil Coles and the rest of the physio staff. They've done everything they can to get me back and today was also a question mark, maybe for the quarter-finals if we made it.

"But 24/7 we've been working hard to get me right and I felt good today. So obviously I played the last 30 and then extra time … the tank was a bit empty but it's always difficult going into games."

The winger said his penalty had been the best he'd ever taken, including in training.

Australia are 7/1 to win the Asian Cup.

The Socceroos are 5/2 to reach the final.

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Penalty saves the ‘pinnacle’ for Ryan

Mat Ryan was able to emulate his hero Mark Schwarzer by making sure Australia could reach the last eight of the Asian Cup.

The Brighton and Hove Albion keeper stopped two penalties in their 4-2 shootout victory in the round of 16 over Uzbekistan.

The Socceroos, who will now face hosts United Arab Emirates in the quarter-finals, were held to a goalless draw by Uzbekistan in Al Ain and extra time couldn't split the teams.

So it went to penalties, and ultimately Ryan's saves and Mathew Leckie's decisive spot-kick kept Australia's defence of the trophy alive.

It brought back memories of Schwarzer's epic 2005 showing against Uruguay which ensured the Socceroos would end a 32-year wait for a World Cup finals appearance.

Ryan said he had been in the crowd in that match in Sydney, adding: "Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would be out here representing Australia, having been a young fan that night.

"Recently I got 50 caps to my name and for that tonight now…I hadn't saved a penalty for the national team, it was something that was bugging me. To get two in that moment just there, I'm really happy and for a goalkeeper that's the pinnacle."

Ryan parried Islom Tukhtakhujaev's strike down the middle and then picked the right way to foil Marat Bikmaev.

His saves tipped the balance back into Australia's favour after Uzbek keeper Ignatiy Nesterov had kept out Aziz Behich's spot-kick.

Ryan admitted he'd done his homework on the opposition to prepare for what he might face if the match went to penalties.

"In this day and age you're always trying to have a look before the game to see if you can gain some kind of advantage," said the keeper.

"You have to have a bit of luck at the end of the day with the side you choose to go or whether you stay in the middle – thankfully twice tonight [the decisions] paid off."

Australia are 7/1 to win the Asian Cup final. The Socceroos are 3/1 to reach the final.

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Socceroos through after shootout

Australia went through in unconvincing fashion to the Asian Cup quarter-finals, with a penalty shootout win against Uzbekistan.

The Socceroos won 4-2 on penalties in Al Ain after the previous 120 minutes had failed to produce a goal.

There was a shortage of attacking intent shown by both sides, which will leave Australia concerned ahead of their quarter-final clash with the United Arab Emirates.

Graham Arnold's team will need to improve against tournament the hosts, who edged past Kyrgyzstan 3-2 thanks to a penalty in extra time.

And they'll be without Tom Rogic at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, after he picked up a second yellow card during the tournament.

Arnold will have Hull City's Jackson Irvine in his mind for an attacking midfield role in the quarter-final, and could consider further changes to his starting side.

Chris Ikonomidis failed to fire up front for the Socceroos, with several poor touches in the final third, and a number of players were below their best.

The star of the victory was keeper Mat Ryan, who produced a pair of wonderful penalty shootout saves, first down the middle and then to his right.

Mathew Leckie then held his nerve to bury his penalty and send Australia through to the last eight.

Speaking of Ryan, Arnold said: "That is why he is in the Premier League…the two saves in the shootout showed what a top goalkeeper he is. He does a lot of homework, when he goes into a game he ticks all the boxes."

Ryan rescued Australia in the 10th minute when he denied Eldor Shomurodov from a one-on-one opportunity, and that proved to be just about the best chance of the match.

Leckie, sent on for Awer Mabil, teed up Rogic for a strike midway through the second half.

Regulation time produced few decent chances, though the Uzbeks were fortunate not to have to go through extra time with only ten men after Davronbek Khashimov avoided being shown a second yellow late in the game after fouling Ikonomidis.

The Socceroos pushed forward in extra time but were ultimately unable to fashion anything more than half-chances.

Uzbekistan ran out the game strongly with a flurry of late substitutions, but they too could not create anything meaningful going forward.

The Socceroos are 3/1 to reach the final, while Australia are 7/1 to win the Asian Cup outright.

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Leckie ‘touch and go’

Winger Mathew Leckie may not be ready for Australia's round of 16 clash with Uzbekistan at the Asian Cup.

Assistant coach Rene Meulensteen said the 27-year-old, who has yet to feature in the Socceroos' defence of the trophy, hadn't yet proved his fitness.

Leckie was retained in the squad despite tearing his hamstring while playing for German club Hertha Berlin before the tournament.

Coach Graham Arnold believed he would return to fitness at some point after the group stages, but Meulensteen believes the Uzbekistan game could come too soon for him.

"He's touch and go, I'm not sure whether he's fine for this game because we want to eliminate every risk," he said.

"He feels he's confident stepping over that line and going … we want them to stay there for all the rest of the games, not just one. The worst thing you can do is think 'yep, great, off he goes' and boom, all the work is for nothing."

The Socceroos qualified for the knockout phase after beating Syria 3-2 in their final Group B game.

Meulensteen says the team have come back strongly from their surprise opening loss to Jordan and feels the players have grasped Arnold's attacking football philosophy.

"If you look to since Arnie and the rest of the staff have taken over, the amount of chances we've created, the goals we've scored, we are on the right track," he added.

Having played three times in 11 days, Australia's players were given a day's break before turning their attention to the game against Uzbekistan in Al Ain.

Uzbekistan qualified as runners-up in Group F, beating Oman and Turkmenistan before going down 2-1 to Japan in their final game.

Australia are 4/6 to win their next match against Uzbekistan, who are 4/1 with the draw 14/5. The Socceroos are 12/5 to win by a one-goal margin.

Mabil says thanks to coach Arnold

Australia forward Awer Mabil dedicated his vital goal against Syria to coach Graham Arnold, after the 3-2 win that put the Socceroos into Asian Cup round of 16.

The FC Midtjylland striker fired in a superb curling effort from outside the box to give Arnold's side the lead in Al Ain.

It was his fourth in his first seven internationals, and he says he feels thrilled to be a part of an exciting squad under Arnold.

Speaking of his goal, Mabil said: "It was really nice, it means a lot. [Arnold] has given me a chance to help my country and it's a chance I'll always be thankful for."

The 23-year-old said he had dedicated his first Socceroos goal, in the friendly win over Kuwait in October, to the coach and was happy to be able to do so again on the big stage.

He raced over to the bench to celebrate with Arnold and the coaching staff after netting late in the first half.

"Today it was good to get an official goal and dedicate it to him to say thank you for the opportunity," he added. "There's always a pride to represent my country, and also be part of this group.

"The philosophy suits everybody and brings out the best in everybody. You can see in the last two games that we're carrying a good momentum; we still have a lot to give."

Mabil hadn't represented the Socceroos until Arnold took over as coach following last year's World Cup.

The former Adelaide United player got on the scoresheet on his debut against Kuwait after coming on as a substitute in the 4-0 victory, and now has three goals in the last four games.

Meanwhile, Adelaide United are 14/1 to win the A-League Grand Final.

The Reds are 13/10 to win their next game against Western Sydney, who are 19/10 with the draw 5/2.

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Rogic rocket earns win

A quality stoppage-time strike by Tom Rogic took Australia through to the knockout stages of the Asian Cup as they beat Syria 3-2.

The Socceroos were twice pegged back in Al Ain after Awer Mabil and Chris Ikonomidis scored.

A draw would have been enough to see Graham Arnold's side through but they secured their second straight victory when Rogic fired in from outside the area in the 93rd minute.

The holders will now face Uzbekistan or Japan in the round of 16 on Monday.

Australia, who had needed extra time to see off Syria in their two-legged clash in qualification for World Cup 2018, were given an early scare when Omar Khrbin dragged a low effort past the far post in the 13th minute.

Jamie Maclaren headed wide for Australia from Rhyan Grant's cross and was denied by keeper Ibrahim Alma's double save before the Socceroos went ahead on 41 minutes. Mabil struck a powerful curling effort with his left foot that gave Alma no chance, notching his fourth international goal.

The lead only lasted two minutes though with Khrbin poking home at the second attempt after Mat Ryan had parried his initial close-range header.

Ikonomidis squeezed the ball over the line nine minutes into the second half to convert Rogic's pass and make it 2-1.

Arnold's side were denied a two-goal cushion when Apostolos Giannou, having replaced Maclaren, took Mabil's pass and fired a fine low shot into the base of the post.

And 10 minutes from time Syria were level when they were awarded a penalty which Omar Al Soma converted.

Rogic's tremendous strike earned the three points for the Socceroos, taking them through in second spot.

Australia are 9/1 to win the Asian Cup. Meanwhile, Japan are 8/13 to win Group F and Uzbekistan 13/10.

Mentality key to victory

Skipper Mark Milligan praised Australia's mental approach to the crunch game against Palestine at the Asian Cup.

The 3-0 victory left the Socceroos well-placed to advance to the knockout stages of a competition they won on home soil four years ago.

It came in the wake of a stunning 1-0 defeat to 109th-ranked Jordan in their opening match in Group B in Al Ain.

Milligan felt Graham Arnold's side had taken a proactive and composed approach to the match against Palestine. Jamie Maclaren and Awer Mabil struck inside the opening 20 minutes and substitute Apostolos Giannou headed home the third goal.

Milligan, who made a game-high 97 passes, said: "We worked on different ways to break them down but I think the most important thing was our mentality. We were a little bit more patient and we kept moving the ball quickly.

"We wanted to make sure we picked our moments to go forward, we wanted to make sure we hit our rotations and timings. We know what it's like when you don't have the ball – it can be very tough."

Australia can ensure they progress by earning a draw with Syria in their final group match on Tuesday.

They met the AFC's sixth-ranked side in the fourth round of qualifying for the last World Cup in October 2017.

The Socceroos, then under Ange Postecoglou, drew 1-1 away in the first leg and the second leg score in Sydney was the same after 90 minutes before Australia won via Tim Cahill's extra-time goal.

Milligan said of Syria: "They've got some quality in their team and we just need to make sure we control things from early on."

Australia are 1/2 to beat Syria, who are 7/1 with the draw 14/5. The Socceroos are 5/1 to win 1-0.

Maclaren delight at first Australia goal

Jamie Maclaren was happy to get off the mark for Australia, in their 3-0 Asian Cup victory against Palestine.

The Hibernian frontman broke his duck in his 10th appearance for the Socceroos, netting with a header from Tom Rogic's cross.

His goal on 18 minutes in Dubai gave Graham Arnold's side a lift, and when Awer Mabil made it 2-0 just two minutes later they had a stranglehold on the match.

Maclaren said of his goal: "It's been a long time coming…but I've just stayed on my path. I'm a goalscorer and it was going to come one way or another; many people say I can't head the ball but today I showed them."

He added: "Right from the start we scored two early goals so that really settles us. It's a great win from the boys and a clean sheet as well helps."

There was pressure on the Socceroos after they went down 1-0 in their first game to Jordan, but Chris Ikonomidis, who claimed assists on goals by Mabil and substitute Apostolos Giannou, said there had been no panic in the squad ahead of the Palestine match.

"We just stuck to our tactics throughout the week; it's a new era under Arnie and we're really finding our feet now," he added.

"We were a young front line out there today and it showed in our fluency up front, our diversity and interchanging positions."

Ikonomidis was one of three new faces in the Socceroos starting side following the Jordan loss.

Australia will face Syria in their final Group B game, knowing a draw will be enough to send them through.

The Socceroos are 1/2 to win their next game against Syria, who are 13/2 with the draw 14/5.

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Socceroos back on track in Asian Cup

Two early goals powered Australia to a first win at the Asian Cup, as they beat Palestine 3-0 in Dubai.

Shocked in their opening Group B match by Jordan, the Socceroos rebounded strongly with Jamie Maclaren and Awer Mabil netting inside the first 20 minutes.

A header from substitute Apostolos Giannou a minute from time rounded off the comfortable win at Rashid Stadium.

With Jordan winning their second match, 2-0 against Syria, it means Australia can't now catch them for top spot in the group but are well placed to go through as the second automatic qualifiers.

They have two more points than Palestine or Syria, and only need a draw against Syria in their final match to progress.

Maclaren headed home an 18th minute cross from Tom Rogic, who was able to play despite having broken a bone in his hand against Jordan.

It was Hibernian striker Maclaren's first goal for the Socceroos, his glancing header nestling in the far corner beyond keeper Rami Hamada.

Within two minutes Mabil ghosted in to latch on to an angled ball from Chris Ikonomidis. Giannou's goal also came from an Ikonomidis cross.

The Socceroos could have gone 3-0 up before the break, but Mabil blazed over from close range.

Graham Arnold's side almost scored again when Rhyan Grant's low cross deflected off Abdallah Jaber and struck the bar.

Palestine did not muster a single effort on target and have failed to score in their two games so far.

But they can still go through if they beat Jordan, who have already secured qualification.

The Socceroos are 1/2 to win their next game against Syria, who are 13/2 with the draw 14/5.

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Socceroos ‘going through the motions’

Mathew Ryan insists Australia need to show more intent against Palestine than they did in their opening Asian Cup match with Jordan.

The Socceroos slumped to a surprise 1-0 defeat to Jordan in Al Ain, and need to avoid a similar fate in their second game if they're to keep alive their hopes of defending the trophy.

Keeper Ryan said he'd been concerned during the Jordan match that the team hadn't matched the hunger and intensity of their opponents.

"You saw with the opposition when they scored their goal and celebrating the victory after, the desperation in which they were defending, just how much it meant to them, he added.

"Obviously we had the desire to win, it was just more evident in the mannerisms of their players.

"We were just going through the motions a little bit – at the end of the day, when you do that you get punished."

The Socceroos, 1/5 to qualify from thier group, had been confident going into their first game, despite having been hit by injuries.

Daniel Arzani and Aaron Mooy were ruled out before their final preparation camp, and Martin Boyle had to be replaced in the squad after being injured in the final warm-up game against Oman.

Coach Graham Arnold then lost forward Andrew Nabbout just before the match, bringing in Jamie Maclaren as his replacement.

Brighton keeper Ryan says the defeat was something of a wake-up call for the squad.

"When we don't come out and want it more than the opposition, a day like that can happen and I think that's the biggest learning curve we had from that," he added.

"We're going to show that we have learned from that from the start of this next game."

Ryan made an excellent save against Jordan to prevent them going 2-0 up in the first half, pushing a free-kick from Baha' Abdel-Rahman onto the crossbar.
 
The Socceroos are 2/7 to win their next game against Palestine, who are 10/1 with the draw 4/1.

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