Al-Ain (United Arab Emirates) (AFP) – If Australia are to go deep at the Asian Cup they will owe much to the Scotland-based players who have been among their top performers so far in the United Arab Emirates.
Captain Mark Milligan and striker Jamie Maclaren both play for Hibernian in Edinburgh, while forward Tom Rogic is a fan favourite at Celtic.
All three shone as the Socceroos turned on the style in a 3-0 win over Palestine that reignited their title defence with one group game to play against Syria.
Coach Graham “Arnie” Arnold would have had more Scottish firepower if not for an untimely knee injury to Martin Boyle, also at Hibs, after his call-up into the squad.
Scotland-born Boyle, the son of an Aussie truck driver, had scored two goals in three friendly appearances after receiving his Australian passport in November.
Even without Boyle, Arnold has as many Scotland-based players in his squad as those living in England, or even Australia.
Maclaren proved his worth as he shrugged off nine barren appearances to score his first international goal against Palestine with a glancing header from a cross by Rogic.
Arnold praised both players and especially the “outstanding” Rogic, who was playing with a broken hand and also sprained his ankle in Australia’s opening defeat to Jordan.
“Not only did he have a broken hand but he also had a sprained ankle from the game against Jordan,” said Arnold.
“But Tommy, that’s how much pride he has in playing for the country. He loves playing for Australia, he’s very proud to play for Australia.”
Rogic raised hackles at Celtic when Australia’s training camp forced him to miss last month’s Old Firm derby with Steven Gerrard’s Rangers — which Rangers won 1-0.
– Aussie Bravehearts –
Maclaren will probably yield his starting place when Japan-based Andrew Nabbout returns from injury, but his performance against Palestine at least gives Arnold options.
“It’s great to have competition for places. It creates a very competitive environment and one that pushes players to another level,” said the coach.
Maclaren, consistently prolific at club level, said he never lost faith in his ability to score despite his goalless stretch for Australia.
“Yeah it’s probably hard to explain, it’s been a long time coming,” the 25-year-old said, according to the Asian Football Confederation website.
“I’ve never really gone off track. I’m a goalscorer, I know chances will always come my way, and when that chance does come I was there to take it.
“Now it’s time for me to step up and really kick on.”
Australia were stifled 1-0 against Jordan but they have renewed confidence for Tuesday’s final Group C game against Syria, where they need only a draw to reach the last 16.
“It’s easy to break down (defences) once the players know how to do it. If teams are going to play like that, the players know exactly what to do,” Arnold said after the Palestine win.
“I think you saw today, we had 10 or 11 great chances and I expect us to get more clinical and more ruthless in that regard.”
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