Hibs duo Jackson Irvine and Martin Boyle will get much-needed rest as ex-Hearts star hailed for Australia contribution
Australia returned to competitive action after 18 months in cold storage with a flourish, with two Hibs players at the heart of it.
The Socceroos defeated Kuwait 3-0 in the Middle East as part of their qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup on Thursday evening. Hibs midfielder Jackson Irvine scored their second goal, converting a rebound after his Easter Road team-mate Martin Boyle had a penalty saved, while Boyle set up Mathew Leckie in the opening minute with a cross to put the Aussies ahead.
Both Hibees played the full 90 minutes and manager Graham Arnold expects Australia to improve significantly in their next three qualifies against Chinese Taipei (Monday, June 7), Nepal (Friday, June 11) and Jordan (Tuesday, June 15).
“That’s only 20 per cent of what you’re going to get from this team – I expect a big improvement from the players,” Arnold said.
“At times, (they were) a little bit rusty (against Kuwait), turned over possession a bit easy, but this team is only going to get greater and greater.”
Australia have a 31-man squad based in Kuwait for the tranche of qualifiers and Arnold has hinted that he will rotate his squad, meaning that Boyle and Irvine – following long seasons with their club – may get some much-needed rest.
“I didn’t bring 31 players here for them to sit up in the grandstand,” he said.
“I haven’t been able to work with the players for 18 months. This is the perfect few weeks to get the boys together to build the team again, to rebuild the team.
“We have a family culture within the Socceroos, that mateship. The boys haven’t seen each other for 18 months, and as soon as they come into camp it took them one day to reconnect.
“We should be proud as a nation with the commitment these boys are giving to play for the nation.
“I was harping on at them all week about communication. It’s the most important thing when you’re not playing together regularly.
“When you have a family together as a team then everything comes back very quickly.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the boys and I expect that the nation is extremely proud of them as well.”
Australia are hot favourites to top Group B and progress to the knock-out phase, and they were given a helping hand by a former Hearts defender and a stalwart of the national team.
Ryan McGowan, who won the Scottish Cup with the Jambos against Hibs in 2012 and now plays back Down Under for Sydney FC, was a shock starter for Australia after arriving late to the camp due to A-League commitments. However, he thrived against Kuwait and drew warm praise from his national coach.
“I’ve got to give a great accolade to Ryan McGowan,” Arnold said. “He arrived only two days ago. For him to do what he did and play 90 minutes the way that he did was great.
“I needed players who were 100 per cent fit. I learnt a lot about McGowan’s mentality today. He was fantastic.
“I have a lot of belief in my players and we have a great talented group of players that always want to work hard.”