Football: Awer Mabil goal the difference in Socceroos win over Kiwis

Awer Mabil came to the party with a sizzling strike to ensure the Socceroos’ 100-year celebrations didn’t fall completely flat at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.

Mabil scored in a Socceroos jersey for the first time on Australian soil to secure the hosts a 1-0 win over New Zealand.

His 32nd-minute long-distance shot was the highlight of a lacklustre contest played in front of 25,392 fans who would have expected more from a Socceroos side playing against the 103-ranked nation in the world,

In the Socceroos’ first match since their heroic success at the World Cup playoffs in June, their rustiness was obvious, and against better opposition, they would have been made to pay for their sloppy play.

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold was disappointed that his side “lost the physical battle”.

“But overall I did change the way we played,” Arnold said.

“I wanted them to play man-on-man all over the park to get that physical battle… but I thought we should have scored a couple of more goals.”

Arnold will demand an improved performance – no matter which 11 players start the match – in game two of the series on Sunday in Auckland, where the New Zealanders will no doubt lift in front of their home fans.

Arnold on Thursday night made five changes to the side that started in June’s playoff success in Qatar against Peru.

Right back Fran Karacic came in for Nathaniel Atkinson, central defenders Milos Degenek and Trent Sainsbury replaced Bailey Wright and Kye Rowles, winger Mabil got the nod over Mathew Leckie, and centre-forward Adam Taggart edged out Mitch Duke.

The Socceroos made a shaky start, with defender Trent Sainsbury gifting the visitors possession in the opening two minutes with a poorly directed pass,

Tim Paine pounced but he directed his shot straight at grateful goalkeeper Mat Ryan,

Sainsbury’s poor start continued in the 14th minute when he was outmuscled by Andre de Jong, who then failed to finish off his good work when he shot wide of the post with only Ryan to beat.

The Socceroos belatedly settled and should have taken the lead in the 17th minute through midfielder Jackson Irvine who failed to hit the target from point-blank range,

However, Irvine was to redeem himself 15 minutes later when he won possession in the midfield before feeding Mabil, who cut inside on to his right foot before unleashing a 20-metre strike that found the bottom corner of the net

While the shot was hit with power and placement, New Zealand goalkeeper Oli Sail would have been disappointed to be beaten from distance.

While both sides had chances in the first half, the second half delivered little,

Substitute Leckie had a chance to double Australia’s lead in the dying stages, but Sail produced a wonderful save to ensure the Socceroos would have to settle for a narrow win in their farewell to Australian fans before the November 20-December 18 World Cup.

New Zealand coach Danny Hay was proud of his side’s display at Suncorp Stadium.

“Some of the football tonight was outstanding,” Hay said.

“We dominated for large periods … but this is part of our evolution.

“We’ve got to become clinical in the final third.”

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