10 October 2014 19:14
Australia and the United Arab Emirates played out a dour 0-0 draw at a hot and humid Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium on Friday.
In a match of few clear-cut chances, the Socceroos struggled to mount any serious pressure in the attacking third but coach Ange Postecoglou will surely be pleased by an improved defensive showing.
Alex Wilkinson and Trent Sainsbury were paired in the heart of the defence and ensured a first clean sheet in nine games for the Australians.
Another bright spot was Robbie Kruse’s long-awaited comeback from a knee injury, getting through 60 minutes and showing some encouraging signs ahead of January’s Asian Cup.
Postecoglou threw up a surprise before kick-off, leaving Tim Cahill on the bench and handing a debut to Sydney FC attacker Bernie Ibini up front.
But it was Mathew Leckie who had the first chance inside two minutes, out-pacing Mohamed Ahmad onto Mile Jedinak’s lofted ball but his effort was wide of the mark.
The searing heat, which nudged 35 degrees Celsius in Abu Dhabi, contributed to a slow tempo early on with the hosts content to play at almost a walking pace at times.
The Socceroos managed to get into several promising areas in around the UAE box but were often let down by the final pass.
After being largely untroubled for the first 25 minutes, the visitors had Wilkinson to thank for denying UAE the opener.
Ali Ahmed Mabkhout sprung the offside trap and raced clear on goal, dinking the ball over keeper Mat Ryan but Wilkinson was on the line to head over the crossbar and to safety.
Australia finished the half in the ascendency and almost took the lead after a clever set-piece routine.
Mark Milligan ran onto Jedinak’s chipped free-kick – after starting next to his skipper – but his glancing header went just wide of the post.
Leckie managed to test Ali Khaseif early in the second half after being freed up on the edge of the box by some nice build-up play from Milligan and Massimo Luongo, but his tame shot was easily saved.
A tiring Socceroos side seemed to find a second wind with the introduction of substitutes James Troisi and Brad Smith on the hour mark.
Soon after Milligan spotted Leckie’s incisive run in behind the UAE defence, picking the FC Ingolstadt man out with an inch-perfect pass but his first-time shot was well saved by Khaseif.
Confusion in the UAE box almost saw Ibini cap his debut with a goal but he was unable to get significant connection on his snap-shot from just eight yards out.
Australia’s record goalscorer Cahill came on for the last 15 minutes and had a trademark headed chance before Sainsbury squandered a gilt-edged chance at the death.
A corner was headed towards goal by Cahill, finding Sainsbury just a couple of yards out but his flick went up over the bar to ensure the match would finish goalless.