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Mabil steals show with stunner but Socceroos ‘lost physical battle’ to New Zealand

Awer Mabil was the star as the Socceroos downed New Zealand 1-0 in their World Cup warm-up match at Suncorp Stadium, though it was a game that raised more questions than it answered about the upcoming World Cup campaign.

The winger scored a stunning long-range effort and threatened all night, the major high point on an evening in which Australia toiled at times against an All Whites side that sit 64 places below them in the FIFA World Rankings.

“Tonight it was a great goal from Awer,” said coach Graham Arnold. “He could have scored more and we need to be a bit more ruthless. We changed the way we played, with pretty much man to man over the whole pitch to get more effort and more energy.

“We still have a long way to go. New Zealand got beat by Costa Rica and could have easily qualified. We lost the physical battle. When you get to the World Cup, you have to win the physical battle.”

Former Socceroos coach Guus Hiddink, who came out of retirement to assist Arnold as part of the centenary of the Socceroos’ inaugural match, was much more optimistic.

“Even if it’s a practice game, it’s very important for confidence that you win,” he said. “This is not a bad team – New Zealand are a very skillful team. I think we should have got one or two more goals.”

Jackson Irvine said he was ‘far from satisfied’ with a Socceroos performance in which they were often dominated.

“There’s a lot we could have done better,” said Irvine. “At the end of the day, winning games of football is what it’s all about and we managed to do that today.

“With the tight preparation and a lot of travel, there’s a lot to be pleased about. A win’s a win.”

Mabil himself was happy to have made an impact after a tough start to the season in which he has been in and out of the team at his new club, Cadiz, in Spain’s top flight.

Amazingly, this was his first Socceroos goal on home soil – the previous seven having all come in the Middle East, which will surely bode well for a World Cup in Qatar.

“It was a nice performance to get my first goal at home,” said Mabil. “All my goals have come in Middle East! That’s not bad in two months to score there! It was nice to get off the mark.

“Before the game, I saw they play three at the back, so if I could go one on one against their centre back, it’s good for me. Jacko won the ball, so I cut in and could strike it. It was good that it went in because that’s what I practice in training.”

Arnold would have been particularly pleased by his combination work with left back Aziz Behich: Mabil was consistently able to cut inside and find the onrushing defender in dangerous positions.

Mabil’s goal was the brightest moment of the first half for the Socceroos in what was otherwise a tight game.

New Zealand, who will not be at the World Cup in November, nearly scored twice early on, with both chances largely of Australia’s own making.

Within seconds of kick off, Trent Sainsbury passed straight to Tim Paine, who could have done a lot better with his shot. In the ninth minute, Chris Wood was able to flick on a simple punt up the field but, again, the finish was lacking with Andre de Jong putting it wide.

Australia did have their chances. Jackson Irvine, excellent in the middle, missed a simple chance off an Aaron Mooy corner and Mabil shot wide from distance.

Irvine also set up what looked a goal on replays only for the whistle to have been blown against him for a very soft freekick.

The breakthrough always looked like was going to be from Mabil. He created once chance via Behich before taking matters into his own hands with a stunning shot after cutting inside off his wing.

The game lost tempo after the break as substitutions kicked in. The All Whites had the bulk of the play, but Australia were happy to sit back and, indeed, had the best chance to extend their lead as Matt Leckie hit the post with five to play.

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