It was a much-improved performance and righted some of the wrongs from Sunday’s shock 1-0 defeat to Jordan, but it must be viewed in context. Palestine tried hard but were clearly no match for the Socceroos and at no stage did they look like a serious threat.
Coach Graham Arnold made three changes to the team that fell to one of Australia’s worst losses in recent memory in Al Ain. One of them was forced, with Rhyan Grant replacing the injured Josh Risdon (groin) at right-back. Two weren’t – Chris Ikonomidis and Jackson Irvine came in for Robbie Kruse and Massimo Luongo.
All of them worked as the Socceroos played with a newfound impetus and fluidity in attack. Arnold wanted a reaction to the Jordan shock, and he got it. His players were a little tense at the start, but Maclaren’s goal seemed to relax their nerves as they finally began to make the most of their possession domination almost from the start.
Maclaren had missed an easy chance from point-blank range in just the third minute. A smart ball from left-back Aziz Behich found Ikonomidis, who put in a perfect cutback to the striker – only for him to take an air swing at the ball.
But the former A-League golden boot didn’t drop his bundle and took his next chance beautifully. Tom Rogic’s cross from deep was immaculate, and Maclaren jumped to get a glancing header on it that diverted it into the corner of the net.
Maclaren, who was making his 10th appearance for his country, was mobbed by teammates as he celebrated his drought-breaker with a proud roar and a double fist-pump.
Within a flash it was 2-0 to the reigning champions. It was a very similar move to the first goal, this time with Ikonomidis sending a ball into at the back post where Mabil was on hand to thump it in.
With their tails up, the Socceroos continued to generate chances. Irvine nearly put away two of them with his head, nine minutes apart, but his first effort was blocked, albeit inadvertently, by Palestinian defender Musab Battat and his second sailed over the crossbar.
Mabil could have had a brace in the 41st minute but badly overblew his shot from a Maclaren layoff. Eight minutes after the break, Palestine left-back Abdullah Jaber nearly scored Australia’s third goal for them when he deflected a pass from Grant onto the crossbar.
Perhaps the only downside for the Socceroos came in the 83rd minute, when Trent Sainsbury earned a yellow card for time-wasting. It was his second of the tournament, meaning he will be suspended for the match against Syria.
Giannou, who came on for Maclaren late in the second half, completed the rout just before injury time. Ikonomidis was again the provider, crossing in after a short corner to the Cyprus-based striker, who headed home from inside the six-yard box.
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.