DOHA — Australia coach Graham Arnold said he was “blending and gelling” a new team after they topped their group at the Asian Cup with a 1-1 draw against Uzbekistan on Tuesday.
Martin Boyle gave the already qualified Socceroos the lead with a controversial first-half penalty, before a late equaliser from Azizbek Turgunboev ensured Uzbekistan went through to the last 16 in second spot.
It was the first goal Australia have conceded at the competition, following opening wins over India and Syria.
Arnold has picked an inexperienced squad for the tournament and said his side were “getting better as we go.”
“We have four players here who have had Asian Cup experience and in the squad of 26 we only had 12 players that were here in Qatar for the World Cup,” he said.
“I’m blending and gelling a new squad together. It’s about us connecting as a group.”
Australia won Group B ahead of Uzbekistan, with Syria beating India 1-0 to finish third.
The Socceroos took the lead in the first minute of first-half injury time after a VAR check gave them a hotly disputed penalty.
The danger looked to have passed when Riley McGree missed a glaring chance in front of goal after Kusini Yengi had danced his way through the Uzbekistan defence.
But the Australians were given a reprieve when a VAR check judged that the ball had hit Uzbek defender Odiljon Hamrobekov’s hand in the build-up as he slid in to tackle Yengi.
Uzbekistan coach Srecko Katanec said the decision had caused “big confusion.”
“If this is a penalty I don’t understand the rules. There is no intention,” he said.
Boyle converted the penalty to set Australia on course to win all three group games at the Asian Cup for the first time.
But Uzbekistan fought back in the second half and Turgunboev outjumped Aziz Behich to head in an equaliser in the 78th minute.
Jaloliddin Masharipov, who made a huge impact after coming on as a half-time substitute, said Uzbekistan’s games against Australia were “always very important.”
“We are very happy with this result because in the past we couldn’t score against them,” said Masharipov, whose cross set up Turgunboev’s goal.
“We played for a successful result and tried to execute what the coach wanted us to do.”
Arnold said his squad had “more depth” after making five changes to his starting line-up from the previous game against Syria.
They were missing regular centre-forward Mitchell Duke, who has a hamstring problem.
But Arnold warned his players that they will have to improve in front of goal, having scored only four times in three matches.
“I thought that we played some good combination football, some good attacking football, but it’s the last pass,” said Arnold.
“That’s down to the individual. The individual has to be able to put them in the back of the net – I can’t do that.” –AFP