Socceroos seal World Cup qualifying win thanks to Troisi and Sainsbury
SYDNEY -- Australia marched back into 2018 World Cup qualifying contention with a clutch 2-0 win over the United Arab Emirates at the Sydney Football Stadium on Tuesday night.
Goals from Jackson Irvine and Mathew Leckie -- both headed in from corners -- provided the unbeaten Socceroos with their first victory since September after four consecutive draws to keep the pressure in Group B on Japan and Saudi Arabia.
Here are three quick thoughts from this re-match of the 2015 Asian Cup semifinal:
1. Changes reinvigorate the hosts
Ahead of the game, the teamsheets provided a tell-tale sign that the two nations' World Cup hopes were on the line.
The four new faces named by Australia boss Ange Postecoglou, and five from his U.A.E. counterpart Mahdi Ali, spoke of two teams still desperately trying to find a winning formula so deep into qualifying.
Postecoglou was typically bullish in sticking to his new 3-2-4-1 formation unveiled last week against Iraq, while the visitors were relying on the pace of Ahmed Khalil and guile of Omar Abdulrahman to do damage on the break.
It was Australia's changes, however, that paid dividends early when James Troisi -- in the Socceroos side for the suspended Aaron Mooy -- swung in a left-footed corner for Irvine to nod home in the seventh minute.
Indeed, Troisi posed Australia's biggest threat all night. The Melbourne Victory man came close in the 36th minute when blazing over the bar, and missed a chance to double the Socceroos' advantage when Mathew Leckie cut the ball back from the byline just after the hour mark.
Not to be denied, Triosi returned the favour for Leckie, curling in another impeccable corner for the FC Ingolstadt man to head home in the 78th minute and seal Australia's vital victory.
2. Sainsbury, Milligan add quality to the system
Troisi's inclusion wasn't the only one that reaped rewards, as Trent Sainsbury's return to the starting lineup benefitted Postecoglou's side two-fold.
The centre-back may be riding the pine at Inter Milan, but he remains a class above any other options Australia have at the back. The coach has a policy of not awarding any playing time to those not getting it at their clubs. That rule may need to have an asterisk next to Sainsbury's name in the future.
The 25-year-old's return also meant Mark Milligan was able to shift into his more accustomed defensive centre-mid position.
The former Victory star might play second fiddle when it comes tho Mile Jedinak in the popularity stakes. But his performances in a Socceroos jersey -- particularly in the last two years -- regularly outshine that of his captain.
Calm on the ball and dominant off it, Milligan turned in a cool performance when his country needed it most on Tuesday. With just a few short weeks until his contract at Baniyas is up, all 10 A-League clubs should be attempting to make a play for the 31-year-old.
That's if they can tempt him back to Australia, of course, as performances like the one Milligan delivered in Sydney make it clear that he's still one of the Socceroos' best.
3. Abdulrahman a rare gem
Despite Australia being able to name players that boast the likes of Valencia, Juventus and Liverpool on their resumes, it is clear that Abdulrahman remains Asia's most exciting player to watch.
Every single U.A.E. attack went through the midfield maestro, and on another night - and with better support from his teammates -- the No. 21 would have been two or three assists to the good.
Sadly, it's not likely that the reigning Asian player of the year will ever leave his Arabian Gulf League club Al Ain thanks, in part, to a reported $4 million-a-year deal, plus perks.
World football is worse off for it. Abdulrahman deserves a bigger stage to shine.
Mike Wise is the associate editor for ESPN FC Australia and New Zealand. You can follow him on Twitter @wisey_9.