Nepal grateful they scored a trip to sunny Canberra

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It’s game two of the second round of the #RoadToQatar22 and Australia are ready to face off against emerging football nation Nepal. While we may not be expecting a particularly competitive game, the Socceroos have burned us before. It would be irresponsible not to keep an eye on things. 

The gang’s all here: Maty Ryan, sans hat; Aaron Mooy the GOAT; and one of the tallest men in international football making his debut, Harry Souttar (he’d have been in the top five tallest players in the 2018 Men’s World Cup, had he played.)

It’s a full yellow kit for Australia who look relaxed on the pitch at kick off. Nepal almost miss the kick off as they’re stuck in their pregame huddle. This is Nepal’s third game in the group: they lost their first against Kuwait 7-0, but won 2-0 vs. Chinese Taipei.

It’s so nearly an own goal by Nepal at the 1:12ish mark that my heart plummets but they recover for a few minutes. We want to win by a lot, but we don’t want them to lose too badly.

4:40 in and the Nepal keeper saves both a goal attempt and its rebound, with Australia failing to score in a way that feels a little familiar. And so it’s a corner taken by Mooy who kicks to Jamie Maclaren whose first attempt is punched away by the keeper, but then he again follows it through to the back of the net for his second international goal. What have we learned? Always follow through.

1:0 to Australia.

Graham Arnold’s looking twitchy on the sideline and Kevin Muscat’s making his commentary debut. The ball is in Nepal’s half for… most of the game so far. A second set piece for a foul on Matt Leckie sees Craig Goodwin loop it in to Jackson Irvine who heads it into the crossbar. Why? Why always the near misses? We’re 9 minutes in.

Nepal are scrappy and taking everyone down with them. Australia are passing a lot. It’s what we do. No bogarts here. Nepal have flashes that make this battle worn Socceroo spectator wary. We’ll look back and say they were ‘never in it’ but Australia has now missed two good chances with 13 minutes down.

No word on what Maty Ryan’s doing at the other end of the pitch. Close up of Maty Ryan at 15 minutes in confirms he’s not doing very much. Australia have settled deep into Nepal’s third and are circling the box. Craig Goodwin kicks a corner to Souttar who takes out a defender and looks along distinerestedly as he falls. Mooy’s corner from the opposite end is similarly barren. Jackson Irvine is everywhere but on the scoresheet.

Then Maclaren gets his second goal at 20 minutes in and it’s somewhat of a team goal. It’s Aziz Behich to Rhyan Grant who heads it to Maclaren who’s near the left post. His international tally is now three. He’s getting good service and I’m feeling unsettled. This doesn’t usually happen.

It’s a corner again at 23 minutes and Harry Souttar gets his first goal – heading it into the net. Australia are 3-0 and maybe as Socceroos fans, we can relax? But can a Socceroo fan ever really relax?

Number 7 for Nepal has tight shorts and aggression. At 24 minutes Nepal are as close to Maty Ryan as they’ve been all day but it’s wasted and now back to Ryan who redistributes. With ten minutes to go in the first half, Nepal do seem a tiny bit more lively, or maybe it’s just their keeper who is also their captain. But he can’t defend 11 men on his own. His name isn’t Maty Ryan. There are a few crucial differences between the teams outside of Nepal apparently only having one usable football pitch in their whole country. The first is physical size, which they’ve tried to make up for with enthusiasm, but have become tired.

At around 38 minutes Mooy floors the ball into the head of a defender who somehow lives. Lovely footwork from Nepal at 41” who string together a good amount of passes and eventually find the hands of Maty Ryan. Seconds later we’re back by Nepal’s goal and Mooy again tries to strike, slightly wide. The ref adds 1 minute injury time which almost becomes a fourth goal. Leckie has a goal disallowed and looks genuinely horrified. The commentators think it’s an own goal that should stand but this isn’t rugby league, the ref’s not gonna change his mind. Unlucky, Leckie.

Now it’s half time and we can almost call this and switch over to the Bachelorette. But we can’t, not really. We’re Socceroo fans, and we’ve been burned before. Siri tells me that the temperature in Canberra is 12 degrees, which is actually pretty mild by Canberran standards.

ABC are defending their pronunciation of Nepal. Why are you like this, soccer fans? A few minutes pass. Mooy kicks to Goodwin who tries to score but it’s saved by the keeper in the 54th minute.  In the 57th minute there’s another attempt missed and Goodwin feeds a corner to Souttar who knocks it into a Nepalese defender who deflects it into the net. 4-0 to the Socceroos.

The commentary is droll and I’m getting sleepy. Leckie dribbles the ball to Behich who sweeps it to Irvine who misses it again. It’s Mooy off for Apostolous Giannou in the 61st minute. Half an hour to go. The pace is slowing from both teams now. Arnie’s checking his watch and Nepal’s about to make a switch. Goodwin makes an A-league style shot at goal in the 65th minute that shoots well over the crossbar.

69 minutes and Goodwin gets subbed off for Ajdin Hrustic. Aziz Behich feeds a wonder ball to Giannou who heads it outside the pitch. It would’ve been magical had he scored it but sometimes the best goals are the ones you have to imagine making it instead. A set piece from Nepal at 74” goes under-utilised and Hrustic takes a shot at 76” but it’s saved. It’s Awer Mabil time, subbed on for Leckie. He takes an immediate touch

Everyone’s playing relatively well. They appear to be having a good time.

A yellow card for Nepalese midfielder Rajin Dhimal grants Hrustic a free kick outside the box with 7 minutes to go. It’s a good shot from him, reaching Souttar’s head but rebounding outside the net. With 5 minutes to go Nepal makes another change. Another free kick to Hrustic with Irvine and Milligan standing in front of the wall, and Maclaren ready to fire, too. He kicks it straight to the wall, though, and Milligan gets fouled outside of the box. Mabil takes the shot this time, missing again. 2 minutes to go.

Then it’s Milligan to Irvine to Maclaren with precision passes that see Maclaren get his hattrick. 3 minutes of injury time are added but pass by pretty uneventfully.

Socceroos win 5-0.

It’s a scoreline that will keep us on top of the table, by a team that should defend their position well. Next up is a game against Chinese Taipei who have lost both their group matches. The real test will be against Jordan in the game following, who beat us 1-0 the last time we played back in January.

By Kelly Simpson

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