Australia have drawn a line under their World Cup exploits and given a glimpse of the potentially bright future that awaits them with an impressive 3-1 win over Ecuador.
Socceroos boss Graham Arnold has spoken of wanting to use last year’s round-of-16 exit as a springboard towards the 2026 tournament.
And the crowd of 20,268 at CommBank Stadium in Sydney got an insight into what lies in store over the next three-and-a-half years.
Australia’s opening two goals on Friday came from experienced campaigners Jackson Irvine and Awer Mabil in a typically spirited and workmanlike showing.
But the real moment of excitement came late in the second half when 19-year-old debutant Alex Robertson kickstarted a move which led to fellow teenager Garang Kuol grabbing his first international goal.
“It’s these senior boys that are crucial to all that, they’ve got to lead the way and they did that very well,” Arnold said.
“Let’s not get carried away – these kids need a heap of experience and plenty of game time at their clubs.
“These kids haven’t played against South American teams before but I was very happy with young Alex and Aiden O’Neill was very good.
“These young boys are tapping the older boys on the shoulder, which is great.”
Melbourne City midfielder O’Neill was the only player in Arnold’s starting XI who didn’t go to the World Cup and the familiarity allowed Australia to quickly get into their rhythm.
Mitch Duke was busy all night and he helped set up Irvine for Australia’s opener.
Duke slid low to turn a Craig Goodwin free kick back across the six-yard box in the 12th minute and Irvine was given the simplest job to tap in.
Replays showed Duke was offside, but with no VAR in use, Australia had the lead.
Ecuador responded quickly with a well-taken header from defender Felix Torres.
But Australia were able to storm back into the lead when their high press caught the visitors out at the back.
Defender Piero Hincape had a ball snatched off him by a hassling Irvine and the midfielder was able to tee Mabil up in the box.
The winger powered the ball into the back of the net and Australia looked promising.
Duke was at his bustling best and the forward could consider himself unlucky to have not scored on his return to Sydney’s west.
The forward was taken off soon after the hour mark with hardworking midfielder Keanu Baccus at the expense Wanderers forward Brandon Borrello and Robertson.
Robertson, who has yet to start a senior game for Manchester City, looked assured on his maiden Socceroos outing and it was his intricate build-up play that began a move for Kuol’s goal.
Robertson charged down the left exchanging passes on the way before finding Aziz Behich, whose cross was tapped in by Kuol.
Arnold said he was likely to make changes in the second friendly against Ecuador in Melbourne on Tuesday.
“It’s a friendly game but it’s about getting the kids to learn what we want from them,” Arnold said.
“Ecuador were a good team and I’m very happy with the way the boys played.”