Socceroos take heart from positive night despite Wembley defeat to England | Australia

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Since the conclusion of the World Cup in Qatar, Australia have faced Ecuador twice, newly-crowned world champions Argentina, Mexico, and now England, who defeated Graham Arnold’s side 1-0 at Wembley on Friday evening. Over these fixtures, they have won once – 3-1 over Ecuador in the first game of this run – drawn once, and lost three times. They have scored six goals and conceded eight. The three latest games have all taken place away from home.

None of these contests will go down in the annals of footballing history. In contrast to the 3-1 triumph the Socceroos secured over England 20 years ago, their latest meeting, aside from its notability as the first time an Australian senior side played at Wembley, will perhaps be remembered in years to come as having simply happened. Or, at a pinch, as the debut of Levi Colwill, Eddie Nketiah, Lewis Miller or Mohamed Toure.

Importantly, though, in none of this quintet of games have the Socceroos been embarrassed. Ever since their 4-1 shellacking at the hands of France in the opening game of the World Cup – a contest that Arnold retrospectively insisted represented a “friendly” and learning experience – they’ve shaped as a collective that works hard for each other, perform doggedly in the face of superior opposition and make the oppposition earn everything. Against Mexico and now England, they could have had more.

They were helped in this endeavour in London by the general flow of the contest being well-suited to their strengths. Fielding an experimental side ahead of a European qualifier against Italy on Tuesday, the hosts had handy control of possession for much of the game but, for the most part, were turgid and uninspired in possession. Against this, Arnold’s team were able to defend as a unit, with little-used Leicester City defender Harry Souttar anchoring their efforts with a strong performance at centre-back, and looked to spring on the counter or grab a goal from a set piece.

Especially in the first half, where England’s plodding inertia in possession was at its worst, they certainly had their chances. Keanu Baccus, Mitch Duke, and Kye Rowles all had decent chances and Ryan Strain the best of the opening 45 minutes when he had an effort cleared off the line. England themselves had their opportunities and both James Maddison and Ollie Watkins spurned golden moments to shift the game’s tone but there was never a sense that Australia were holding on for dear life. Jordan Henderson was booed off when he was withdrawn in the 62nd minute.

Harry Souttar shuts the door on Eddie Nketiah at Wembley. Photograph: Tom Dulat/Getty Images

Even after half-time, when Gareth Southgate began to make a few changes and his side clamped down on the Australian threat from open play, the Socceroos continued to hang around. Watkins gave England a deserved lead just before the hour mark but Connor Metcalfe, the 23-year-old whose skillset and promise should have him on several English sides’ radars sooner rather than later, could have erased that with a powerful 80th-minute header that crashed off the post.

The overall tone of the performance will have won Australia more fans and given heart to their supporters. Against one of the best teams in the world, even with their rotations, the Socceroos were in the contest and could have had something. Given where Australia sit in a global footballing context it will be seen as a positive. One of those brave and battling defeats.

“I thought we did well,” Arnold said. “Once again, we didn’t take our chances … when you play against a team at that level you have to take your chances.”

Now though, a new phase will begin for Australia. After taking on South American, Central American and European powers, the Socceroos’ next task is facing off with New Zealand for the newly re-discovered Soccer Ashes at Brentford on Tuesday. They will then commence qualifying for the 2026 World Cup against either the Maldives or Bangladesh – their AFC playoff locked at 1-1 after the first leg in Malé – and then Palestine, for whom football, for obvious reasons, is taking a back seat right now. Then comes the Asian Cup in January, where they will play India, Syria, and Uzbekistan in the group stages.

Australia will be expected to win all of these games. Far from playing on the counter, they will likely be expected to have the ball and unlock their opponents. Their opponents will enter the game emboldened with the underdog spirit that Arnold has honed into such an effective weapon for his side, as evidenced again in this latest clash at Wembley.

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