Socceroos vs New Zealand, Talking Points, Garang Kuol, Jason Cummings, World Cup, squad, Graham Arnold

12 Min Read

The Socceroos wrapped up their World Cup preparations with a 2-0 victory over New Zealand in Auckland to make it two wins and two clean sheets against the trans-Tasman rivals.

It wasn’t all smooth-sailing as a lacklustre first-half had the football community wondering if we were to see more of the same in terms of the dour 1-0 win over the Kiwis in Brisbane last Thursday.

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But an entertaining second-half at Eden Park breathed life into the contest, with the introductions of two cult heroes into the game playing a significant role in that.

Socceroos boss Graham Arnold no doubt has plenty of selection headaches to ponder between now and the moment he announces his final 26-man squad for Qatar, but there was plenty more to dissect from the Aussies’ final friendly. analyses the big points of discussion in the Socceroos Talking Points!

REPORT: Cult hero scores on debut as Kuol delivers in dazzling 18-minute cameo

PLAYER RATINGS: All six debutants impress as teen star makes massive World Cup statement

‘Shocker’ first half miss for Socceroos | 00:36


After a four-year journey to the World Cup, the Socceroos have now played their last match before the tournament proper. But it was not just the final audition for fringe players trying to force their way into Graham Arnold’s plans – it was simultaneously the epitome of Arnold’s core philosophy, the perfect summation of his four years in charge of the national team.

Arnold’s development of the Socceroos has been focused on adding depth to the squad, as well as providing opportunities for young players and a pathway for them to make it to the senior side.

Today saw six debuts. Thomas Deng made his first appearance since his debut in 2018, alongside a 30-year-old who had slogged his way to a well-deserved maiden Socceroos cap in Harrison Delbridge. Marco Tilio earned his first start.

Tilio, Deng, and Delbridge, alongside Andrew Redmayne, Denis Genreau, Joel King, Nathaniel Atkinson, and Connor Metcalfe – a full eight of the 11 starters – have five or less caps. That’s not to mention the five debutants who emerged off the bench!

In his final opportunity to get the Socceroos in shape for the World Cup, to fix the deep concerns and problems that were again on display against NZ on Thursday, Arnold instead opted to roll the dice on the next generation, as well as the often-overlooked Delbridge.

It’s a remarkable show of faith in youth, but it didn’t come out of the blue. Instead, it was the culmination of years of work. Arnold – without asking for a pay rise – took charge of the Under 23s side in recent years, guiding them to a first Olympics appearance since 2008.

Arnold, himself an Olympian from his playing days, believed that Australia’s youth development had been neglected – with damning impacts on the Socceroos. While the Olyroos Olympics campaign ended in disappointment, it was valuable experience for the youngsters – and there was an incredible highlight as the side stunned heavyweights Argentina 2-0.

Eight of the Olyroos who played in that game were involved in today’s match. Besides Duke, who was Australia’s only designated over-age player in Tokyo – using his leadership and experience to guide the young side – a host of starters today were straight out of the Olyroos side: Tilio, Deng, Genreau, King, Atkinson, Metcalfe, McGree.

Keanu Baccus came off the bench in that iconic victory, as he did today for his Socceroos debut.

The Aussies celebrating the win over Argentina last year – a group of young talents who were at the core of today’s win.Source: Getty Images

Centre-backs Harry Souttar and Kye Rowles were also part of that Olyroos campaign, and could well have played in this international window had they not been injured. Both will be hoping to find form and fitness ahead of the World Cup, with a call-up very likely.

The work that Arnold did, both with the Socceroos and Olyroos, has provided a strong pathway for young players to reach the senior team – and judging by their impressive performances, there’s reason to believe in the future of the national side.


The Australian football community had high hopes for Garang Kuol and Jason Cummings and boy, did they deliver.

Cummings entered the contest on the hour mark and Kuol wasn’t far behind him, coming on in the 72nd minute. Kuol (18years 10days) is the youngest player to debut for the Roos since the great Harry Kewell (17y 214d) on 24 April 1996 against Chile.

With so much promise and hype surrounding the cult heroes, there could have been a chance either one perhaps got overawed by the occasion.

Cummings scores on debut for Socceroos! | 01:11

That went quickly out the window, beginning with Kuol’s electrifying dash down the right-hand side to streak clear of his man and bear down on goal but opted to square the ball to Riley McGree instead of taking the selfish option.

The ball eventually found itself in the path of Cummings who was lurking in the box, and his effort on goal cannoned off the arm of All Whites defender Liberato Cacace and earned a penalty, which he had no problems with slotting home.

Kuol had several more moments of magic in a blistering 18-minute spell that had just about everyone on their feet.

It was the perfect way to make an impact for both men and for Channel 10 pundits Bruce Djite and Alex Brosque, the creativity and positive play is something that can play a major role in Qatar.

“That’s what we were craving from the first whistle, that run down the line, the attacking, explosive speed, having shots at goal, putting crosses in,” Djite said.

“He (Kuol) did that in the short space of time that he had. Could he be the bolter for the World Cup? Does Arnie make this decision off the few minutes he got today?”

Garang Kuol’s cameo was hugely impressive.Source: Getty Images

Brosque added: “We knew he’s got that in him, but we haven’t seen much of him in the A-League – only eight or nine appearances, most of them off the bench.

“But we know that he’s unfazed by occasions – we saw it in the All Stars match against Barcelona, playing against some of the biggest players in the world. It didn’t seem to matter to him.”

“As far as what Brucie said – being a bolter – he’s someone who can come off the bench and do something, create something out of nothing, bring that excitement and energy.”

Arnold was full of praise for the duo, but would not be drawn on whether they would earn a call-up for Qatar.

“He’s a kid, he’s just turned 18. I told just to go out and enjoy himself,” said Arnold about Kuol. “I just wanted to give him the experience.

“He showed some quality when he came on, but this is just the first step for him.”

As far as Cummings goes, Alex Brosque said on Channel 10: “You can see in a couple of minutes he had on the pitch, he is a guy that can ruffle the feathers. It got the New Zealand and the players upset. He is a player that can do that. A character not just off the field but honoured as well. He creates things and he’s a menace. Sometimes a gamebreaker like that can make all the difference.”

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It was the same old story for the Socceroos’ midfield.

Stray passes, gifting the ball away in dangerous areas and being bypassed with worrying ease on the counter attack and switches of play.

Part of it may be down to Arnold’s player selection and system, with the coach preferring to use a single midfield pivot in front of the back line.

Denis Genreau was often the defensive option today, with Riley McGree and Connor Metcalfe pushing further forward.

But it was clear that the Toulouse midfielder is not fit to play that role without more cover, while he offers more as a box-to-box option than a sole screening midfielder.

However, the introduction of Cameron Devlin in the second half proved there may be an answer to the Socceroos’ long-running woes.

The Hearts midfielder had one hairy moment when he lost his man at the near post and could have cost the Socceroos a goal.

But the tough-tackling 24-year-old put himself about and never shirked a challenge, making a huge impression – and stifling New Zealand’s attacking threat.

Not only that, but he held his position well and helped circulate the ball among his teammates.

It was a very impressive debut and should give Arnold plenty of food for thought.

Time will tell if his debut has done enough to elevate himself in the midfield pecking order for the World Cup.

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