Ajdin Hrustic has shown there is life beyond Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic with a brilliant display for the Socceroos in their successful return to the pitch after an absence of more than 18 months.
Fittingly wearing the No.10 jersey, Hrustic was superb in the play-making role in Australia’s 3-0 win over Kuwait in the Socceroos’ first match since November 2019.
Victory in Kuwait City lifted the Socceroos to a perfect 15 points from five matches in Group B of the Asian Football Confederation round 2 World Cup qualifiers.
With three more Group B matches in the next week-and-a-half against Chinese Taipei, Nepal and Jordan, the Socceroos – barring a major disaster – should win the group to guarantee themselves a spot in the next qualifying stage.
And 24-year-old Hrustic – getting an opportunity to control Australia’s attack in the absence of Mooy and Rogic – is set to play a major role after his standout performance against Kuwait, which included his first goal for the Socceroos, a brilliant second-half free kick from outside the box that bamboozled goalkeeper Sulaiman Abdulghafoor.
“I do believe he’s going to be one of the stars of the future of the new generation,” delighted Socceroos coach Graham Arnold said of the Dandenong product.
“He’s got a great work ethic, a great professional, a great kid overall and he’s a joy to work with.”
WHAT. A. HIT! 🔥
Ajdin Hrustic scores his first international goal in some style.
🎥: @foxfootball 🇦🇺 3-0 🇰🇼 #AUSvKUWpic.twitter.com/5KaUds4xUy
Despite debuting for the Socceroos in 2017, Hrustic’s game against Kuwait was only his fourth for Australia at senior level.
“He’s a completely different player,” said Arnold, who added that Hrustic’s game had gone to another level since his move from Dutch club Groningen to German Bundesliga outfit Eintracht Frankfurt.
Hrustic said he had matured “mentally and physically” on and off the field.
“I kept working hard and it’s paid off, and as you see now, I’ve managed to help the team with a goal,” the former South Melbourne youth player said.
Hrustic also earned the Socceroos a first-half penalty, which eventually led to a goal after Abdulghafoor’s save from Martin Boyle’s spot kick was pounced on by Jackson Irvine, who scored from close range in the 24th minute to double Australia’s lead after captain Mathew Leckie had put his side ahead after just 55 seconds.
Also impressive was right-back Fran Karacic, who made his long-awaited debut for the Socceroos three years after being among the final cuts from Australia’s 2018 World Cup squad.
Welcome to the @Socceroos family 💚💛
#607 – Fran Karacic
#608 – @kennydougall
#609 – @McgreeRiley#AUSvKUW#AllForTheSocceroospic.twitter.com/1CXUme9xZn
“Fran Karacic was outstanding,” Arnold said of the Italy-based, Croatia-born defender whose father hails from Australia.
“He’s only met the players for seven days, and to play the way he did was just incredible,” Arnold said.
There were also Socceroos debuts for late bloomer Kenny Dougall and former Adelaide United midfielder Riley McGree.
Former Brisbane Roar youth team midfielder Dougall, who scored twice at Wembley last week to help Blackpool secure a berth in the English Championship, came on in the 64th minute for James Holland.
McGree, currently with English club Birmingham City, replaced Hrustic in the 83rd minute.
Australia 3 (Mathew Leckie 1’, Jackson Irvine 24’, Ajdin Hrustic 66’) d Kuwait 0.
Referee: Jumpei Iida (Japan)
Socceroos team: Mat Ryan, Fran Karacic, Ryan McGowan, Milos Degenek, Aziz Behich, James Holland (Kenny Dougall 64’), Jackson Irvine, Martin Boyle, Ajdin Hrustic (Riley McGree 83’), Awer Mabil (Chris Ikonomidis 64’), Mathew Leckie (Mitch Duke 78’).
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