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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Meulensteen hails Ikonomidis potential

Australia assistant coach Rene Meulensteen believes in-form Chris Ikonomidis could be a success if he gets a second chance of playing in Europe.

Ikonomidis is rebuilding his career with Perth Glory after a tough three-year spell with Italian side Lazio.

The striker has six goals in his nine appearances with the Glory since he joined on a three-year deal before the start of the season and his form earned him a spot in the Socceroos squad for the Asian Cup, where he's had an impact.

The 23-year-old has started Australia's past two matches at the tournament, against Palestine and Syria, scoring one goal and provided four assists as the team booked their place in the competition's last 16.

Meulensteen rates the forward highly, and feels he could have a future back in Europe despite thing not having worked out for him the first time around.

Ikonomidis moved to Italy at the age of 16 and spent his youth career with Atalanta before Lazio signed him on a three-year contract in 2013.

However, he made just one start for the club and though he signed a new deal in 2015 he was loaned out three times, while he spent last season back in Australia, on loan with Western Sydney where he netted six times in 12 games.

Meulensteen said of him: "He can go as far as he wants because he's got the potential and personality, and the intelligence for it.

"He's an exciting player to watch, he makes something happen; he's got an eye for a pass, he can beat a man. I think he would suit very well in the Spanish league in a good team."

Australia are 8/11 to win their next game against Uzbekistan, who are 4/1, with the draw 11/4.

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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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Okazaki eyes new challenge

Japan international Shinji Okazaki has admitted that he may leave Leicester City this month because of a lack of first-team opportunities.

The 32-year-old, who played a vital role in the Foxes' amazing Premier League title success in 2015/16, has only started one league match this season under manager Claude Puel.

Okazaki is annoyed that his lack of playing time led to him being omitted from Japan's squad for the Asian Cup.

"After three-and-a-half years, maybe it's time to move on," Okazaki said. "I can't feel satisfied as a player."

Okazaki's contract at the King Power Stadium expires at the end of this season and he has been linked with a switch to Huddersfield Town.

"I have no intention of quarrelling with the team," he added. "But I will make my feelings known.

"It's up to Leicester. Right now, I don't know whether they need me or not. Of course, (moving to) a team that wants me would be ideal."

Leicester are 12/5 to beat Wolves in their next Premier League match on Saturday and 12/1 to win the game 2-1. Meanwhile, Japan can be backed at 8/11 to win Group F at the Asian Cup. Uzbekistan are available at 23/20.

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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Injuries mount for Socceroos

Australia have injury worries over three players ahead of Friday's vital Asian Cup clash with Palestine.

Coach Graham Arnold may have as few as 16 outfield players to choose from in the team's second match at the tournament.

Josh Risdon and Andrew Nabbout are both concerns due to groin issues, while Tom Rogic is nursing a broken hand.

Nabbout and Risdon are unlikely to feature against Palestine, while Rogic, who was injured when he took a tumble in the opening game against Jordan, has yet to be cleared.

The Celtic player ran a few laps at training on Tuesday in Dubai, and is reported to be carrying a knee problem.

Risdon watched the training session, while Nabbout and Mathew Leckie warmed up with the main group, but did not stay with them for long before coming away to do their own lighter work.

Leckie (hamstring) is in the 23-man squad for the Asian Cup but is not expected to be fit until the knockout stage.

Nabbout was forced to pull out at the last minute before the Jordan game, having injured his groin in the last five minutes of their final training session before the match.

Risdon was taken off at half-time with a groin issue of his own. Assistant coach Rene Meulensteen said he had been "over-stretching" himself in his abdominal area when he was hurt.

"(Nabbout) wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't fit for that game. Risdon again, I don't think he'll be fit," added Meulensteen.

"We've had a few of those knockbacks in that respect, because you want your best players on the pitch, we all know that, but we don't spend any energy thinking about that."

If Risdon is unavailable it will mean a start at right-back for Rhyan Grant, who did well off the bench against Jordan, while Rogic is awaiting word from a specialist in Dubai who he saw on Monday.

Australia are 12/1 to win the Asian Cup, while the Socceroos are 5/2 to reach the final of the tournament.

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Rogic broke hand in defeat

Australia hope midfielder Tom Rogic will be available against Palestine, despite breaking a bone in his hand.

The Celtic star hurt his hand in the first half of their opening game of the Asian Cup when he tumbled to the deck after chasing a Jordan player. He managed to play the full 90 minutes in Al Ain, though he missed a couple of decent opportunities in the second half.

The 26-year-old sought medical attention from the bench a short time after injuring his hand and had it strapped before completing the match.

After he saw a specialist on Monday in Dubai, Australia believe he will be fine to take on Palestine on Friday, but they are still awaiting a full report.

Assistant coach Rene Meulensteen said: "I think there is a few scenarios they're looking at at the moment, so we'll have to get the full scale of what we've got to do with that one as soon as we know – whether he can keep playing or not."

Jackson Irvine came to the defence of Rogic, who is already carrying a knee injury, after he was criticised in the wake of the Jordan loss.

"He's a very talented player and he's technically one of our most gifted footballers," said Irvine. "But this is a 23-man squad and there's 14 who are involved on the day and everyone needs to improve and look at their own individual performances, as I'm sure he will.

"We all need to contribute more in certain areas of the pitch, that's for sure. You start with yourself, look in the mirror and see if you've done enough and where you can help out more."

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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