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    Debutants dazzle for Socceroos to add vigour to Arnold’s hardened pros | John Davidson

    By John Davidson,

    John Iredale, fourth from left, is mobbed by teammates after scoring his first goal for Australia in the 5-0 win over Lebanon in Canberra. Photograph: David Gray/AFP/Getty Images

    The kids are all right, but so are the old boys.

    “You can’t win anything with kids” was Alan Hansen’s immortal TV line about Manchester United, back in 1995, after they lost to Aston Villa on the first day of the season. United, of course, famously went on to win the double that season and countless trophies in the years that followed in a team built around the youthful exuberance of the Neville brothers, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and one David Robert Joseph Beckham.

    What Hansen should have said was that it helps to have seasoned professionals around the teenage tyros, to guide and help them like Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Gary Pallister and co, otherwise you won’t win squat. It’s all about that beautiful balance of experience and youth, of wisdom and vigour.

    Related: Craig Goodwin headlines Socceroos’ dominant victory over Lebanon

    It’s advice Graham Arnold is certainly heeding after the Socceroos slayed Lebanon 5-0 in Canberra in their fourth World Cup qualifying match. A record crowd of 25,023 packed GIO Stadium in the nation’s capital to witness Australia sharpen its attack against the Middle Eastern minnows.

    The headlines were rightly taken by a pair of new faces – Kusini Yengi scoring his first goal for his country in just the second minute, John Iredale scoring on his international debut, with just his first touch, and set up by another debutant Patrick Yazbeck, while Josh Nisbet was another who earned his maiden cap.

    Three debutants, all influential in their first appearances, and giving Arnold a chance to return serve to his legion of critics who insist he is too conservative, one-dimensional and over-reliant on “Aussie DNA” and older players. The Lebanon victory was the best the green and gold have played in a long time, probably since Argentina in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, albeit against extremely limited opposition.

    The Cedars, ranked 115th in the world and the 21st best team in Asia, are hardly La Albiceleste , with all due respect. However, the takeaway from the Australian perspective was not just the intense impact of the new brigade in Bruce, but that of the powerful performance of the returning Goodwin.

    The one-time KFC worker from the City of Churches emphasised his essential importance, and that of veteran players in general, with a virtuoso shift. Two goals, two assists, and a display so delightful that it will live long in the memory. The Socceroos have had some cultured left foots in their arsenal over the decades, like Harry Kewell’s, Stan Lazaridis’ and Scott Chipperfield’s, but Goodwin has his own claim to that join trio.

    In took just two minutes for the midfielder’s left peg to make a statement, whipping in a deft cross for Yengi to easily tap in the opener. Forty-six minutes later the Al-Wehda man took the score to 3-0 with a delicious strike from the edge of the box. Then on 81 minutes the winger, who burst into the A-League with Melbourne Heart 12 years ago, put the icing on his own cake with his second goal after being assisted by Iredale.

    Goodwin has played for eight clubs in his senior professional career, from the heights of Adelaide Croatia Raiders in the NPL South Australia to Rotterdam and now in Mecca, the holiest city in Islam. But after his wonder goal against France in the last World Cup, he is certainly enjoying an Indian summer of sorts in the latter stages of his well-travelled career.

    After the disappointment of the 2023 Asian Cup , Arnie and the Socceroos needed a statement performance to show that the best is yet to come after the “what-could-have-been” journey in Qatar. Lacklustre displays during and since the early Asian Cup have not dampened the expectations or the criticism of the national team.

    The 60-year-old’s squad remains reliant on a series of older faces and hardened pros – 31-year-old goalkeeper Maty Ryan, who is closing in on 100 caps, 31-year-old midfielder Jackson Irvine, who is closing in on 70 caps, 33-year-old striker Mitchell Duke and 30-year-old striker Adam Taggart, along with centre back Harry Souttar, the 25-year-old giant from Aberdeen.

    It is a group crying out for new blood, for fresh talent and attacking impetus. Arnold listened and for a change threw caution to the wind and started Yengi, aged 25, and blooded Yazbek, 21, Iredale, 24, and Nisbet, 24. These four, along with a handful of others, may be key figures if Australia is to make a dent in North America in two years’ time.

    Hansen copped plenty for his comment 29 years ago, after insisting that the Red Devils needed more strength in depth. Arnold cannot launch into the transfer market, as Sir Alex Ferguson often did, but the former Sydney FC boss can build depth in the national team ranks by experimenting against less-fancied opposition and giving youngsters opportunities to shine.

    Sometimes they won’t let you down, like on a March night in Canberra. And sometimes they just need an ex-Colonel Sanders employee to help show them the way.

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