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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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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Arnold: We learned from Jordan loss

Australia coach Graham Arnold was pleased his team learned quickly from their shock opening loss, after they got their Asian Cup defence back on track with a 3-0 victory against Palestine.

The Socceroos' Group B campaign had got off to a shaky start in Al Ain against Jordan, when they went down 1-0.

They needed to bounce back strongly against Palestine and achieved that, with goals from Jamie Maclaren – his first for his country – Awer Mabil and Apostolos Giannou.

Arnold said Palestine had tried to play a similar game to Jordan, whose tactics had worked in squeezing Australia out in midfield.

But he'd expected such an approach, he explained, and the squad had spent the time since the Jordan game working on how they would overcome the tactics.

"It's taken a bit of time to get things going," said the coach. "But as I said after the Jordan game, when you lose you learn; and we learned a lot from that day.

"We went onto the training pitch, we worked hard to fix that issue if the teams play quite defensive."

A draw in their final group game against Syria would be enough to take Australia through to the knockout stages.

But Arnold said the team would go into the clash "all guns blazing".

"We'll get better and better as we go," he added. "There's been a lot of changes in the team, a lot of changes in the staff, so we're a new team, and will still grow."

Syria drew 0-0 with Palestine in their first Asian Cup match and then were beaten 2-0 by Jordan.

Australia are 12/1 to win the Asian Cup.

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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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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Socceroos stunned by Jordan

Australia got off to a hugely disappointing start to the defence of their Asian Cup title, losing 1-0 to Jordan in Al Ain.

The Socceroos were stunned by the world's 109th-ranked nation, who grabbed the only goal in the first half through Anas Bani-Yaseen's header.

Jordan earned just their second win under Belgian coach Vital Borkelmans, leaving Australia at the foot of Group B and with tricky games to come against Palestine and Syria.

Despite having the vast majority of possession in the first half, Graham Arnold's team only managed four shots on goal.

They were unable to make much headway against Jordan's packed midfield, Borkelmans' side using tactics that forced Australia out wide.

Their defence held firm in the second half at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, with some help from the woodwork and the offside flag.

The Socceroos fell behind on 26 minutes when Musa Al-Taamari sent in a corner which saw Bani-Yaseen shed his marker Massimo Luongo and head home.

Jordan almost doubled their lead four minutes later, but for Mathew Ryan's superb save from Baha' Abden-Rahman's free-kick on the edge of the area.

Forced to deal with a set-piece conceded by Trent Sainsbury's foul, Ryan got a palm to Abdel-Rahman's shot and pushed it into the crossbar.

Australia had strong penalty claims denied before the break when Robbie Kruse's cross appeared to catch the outstretched hand of Feras Shelbaieh.

Celtic's Tom Rogic had a couple of chances in the second half for the Socceroos but his first, from distance, was stopped by keeper Amer Shafi and he blazed over the top with his second opportunity which came when Aziz Behich cut back to him.

Awer Mabil hit the post with a powerful drive 12 minutes from time, and substitute Jackson Irvine headed wide soon after.

Jamie Maclaren looked to have scored his first international goal when he fired home from a loose ball, but the assistant referee flagged for offside.

The Socceroos are 1/4 to win their next game against Palestine, who are 11/1, with the draw 9/2.

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Grant gets chance in spotlight

Rhyan Grant is aware he'll be in the shop window this month when Australia bid to defend the Asian Cup.

The Socceroos named the Sydney FC defender as one of three A-League players in their squad for the tournament in the UAE.

Grant says he's still happy at the Sky Blues, who are looking to win a third consecutive Premier's Plate this season.

But he's not denying that he has ambitions to play overseas, and playing in the Asian Cup could well lead to offers for him.

The 27-year-old has come back strongly after missing all of last season with a major knee injury, and is now on his first trip overseas with the national team.

With only two caps under his belt – the most recent coming in Sunday's 5-0 friendly rout of Oman – he said being called up for the first time and winning a spot in Graham Arnold's squad had been a whirlwind experience for him.

"I've had a good look at it and a good think and pretty stoked to be here and looking forward to just being around the group and seeing what we can do," he added.

Speaking of the possibility of attracting interest if he does well during the Asian Cup, Grant said: "You never know who's watching.

"It's not on the bucket list – I'm not actively out there looking to get a move overseas or anything but if something was to pop up I'd definitely have a look at it.

"I'm actually really content at Sydney, I love it there and it's definitely home for me. I've got no qualms if I was to stay at the A-League and Sydney for the rest of my career; but you want to go as far as your talent or hard work can take you."

Grant looks unlikely to play in Sunday's Group B opener against Jordan, with rival right-back Josh Risdon expected to get the nod.

Australia are 4/11 to win their first game at the Asian Cup against Jordan, who are 15/2 with the draw 15/4.

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Boyle set to miss Asian Cup

Australia have been further hit ahead of their Asian Cup defence, with winger Martin Boyle set to miss the entire tournament.

Boyle, one of three Hibernian players in the Socceroos squad for the United Arab Emirates tournament, injured his knee in the 5-0 friendly win over Oman on Sunday.

It is a big blow for coach Graham Arnold, who has already been deprived of Daniel Arzani and Aaron Mooy due to injuries.

Boyle was set to be central to the Socceroos plans, after scoring twice on his debut against Lebanon.

He took a knock to his left knee against Oman, and the 25-year-old has been sent back to Scotland for treatment.

Arnold's squad will go into the tournament with further injury doubts over Tom Rogic and Mathew Leckie.

"There is one positive out of it, that it's happened now and didn't happen after the first round," said the coach. "Then we're going through the rest of the tournament with 22 players."

Arnold broke the news to the rest of the squad, saying afterwards:  "It's my job to keep them up. These types of things bring the group together, they make the group stronger; we will keep the energy high."

It's understood the Socceroos will replace Boyle in their 23-man squad with Apostolos Giannou, who has scored four goals in 22 appearances this season in Cyprus for AEK Larnaka – three of them coming in the UEFA Europa League.

A decision on Leckie's participation may not be made until Friday, but he remains a strong chance of featuring in the tournament's knockout stages.

Speaking of Boyle's injury, Arnold said: "He cut inside and he got fouled, it was the impact on his standing foot, his left leg; he said straight away that he felt a pop. The medical team went and got it scanned and looked at [it]… it's a fairly long injury."

Australia are 6/1 to win the Asian Cup.

The Socceroos are 1/6 to win Group B.

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