Look out Asia, Australia are just getting started.
That’s the message from Chris Ikonomidis after Australia kickstarted their Asian Cup defence with a 3-0 win over Palestine in Dubai.
The 23-year-old made the most of being handed a start by coach Graham Arnold, providing assists for Awer Mabil and Aposotolos Giannou in a bright display.
While thrilled to bring his strong A-League form into the international game, Ikonomidis says the team’s response to their opening-game defeat to Jordan is far from all the team can achieve.
“I’m happy with my performance and the team’s win,” Ikonomidis said.
“We’ve got a squad full of talented players. This is Australia.
“This is just the start for us, we’re only just getting warmed up. There’s so much more to give. I think there’s a real buzz in camp and everyone’s excited for the next match.”
That next match will be against World Cup playoff rivals Syria, a team without a goal in their opening two matches and having just sacked coach Bernd Stange following a 2-0 loss to Jordan on Thursday.
Ikonomidis’ rise to Socceroos starter is one of several exciting emergences in Australian football since last year’s World Cup.
His ball to Mabil for the South Sudanese refugee’s strike was a combination between two 23-year-olds who weren’t part of Australia’s squad in Russia.
“I told him before the match to come in on my right foot and I’ll have my head up, just cut across the defence and I’ll look for you. We performed that,” Ikonomidis said.
“Getting that one win and having the goals flow brings a little bit of relaxation and more confidence to team. We’ll be doing exactly that again in four days’ time.”
The victory lifts Australia to second in their group and on the verge of qualification for the knockout stages heading into Tuesday’s clash with Syria in Al Ain.
Coach Graham Arnold promised a reaction from the Jordan defeat and made three changes to his starting XI, bringing in Ikonomidis, Jackson Irvine and Rhyan Grant for Robbie Kruse, Massimo Luongo and the injured Josh Risdon.
Ikonomidis made an instant impact with the Perth Glory winger providing Maclaren with a great chance in the game’s opening minutes which the striker spurned with a fresh air swing at the ball.
Maclaren’s wait for his first Socceroos goal ended in the 18th minute, however, when he headed home a Tom Rogic cross, making it one goal in 10 appearances at national team level.
Two minutes later, Australia were two up when Ikonomidis swung in a cross which Mabil thumped home at the far post after evading his marker.
Australia then controlled the game with Irvine constantly threatening from set pieces before substitute Giannou headed home another Ikonomidis cross in the 90th minute to add gloss to the victory.
Arnold praised his team’s response from the Jordan defeat but believes there’s more to come from his team going forward in the tournament.
“I can’t give my secrets away but it’s easy to break down (a defence) once players know how to do it,” Arnold said.
“If teams want to play like that we know exactly what to do, the players know exactly what to do.
“You saw today I think we had 10-11 great chances and I expect us to get more clinical and more ruthless in that regard.”
Australia’s comfortable margin allowed Arnold to substitute Tom Rogic in the second-half, giving the Celtic midfielder much needed rest as he deals with a broken bone in his left hand and a sprained ankle.
Arnold will have to make at least one change to his line-up against Syria with central defender Trent Sainsbury picking up a second yellow card for the tournament late in the second half.
Sainsbury’s unavailability may force Arnold to push captain Mark Milligan back to defence alongside Milos Degenek, but the Socceroos coach was keeping his options open.
“Silly yellow card, he’s suspended, yep, probably better he has two now and then he has another two once the knockout phase starts but Mark Milligan played a whole World Cup at centre back so he can drop back and play in there besides Degenek as well as Matty Jurman,” Arnold said.
“We’ve got all the bases covered.”
The result means Australia need just a point to secure second place in the group with Jordan having already qualified as group winners.
Palestine face Jordan in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday hoping for a win to push their chances of qualifying as one of the four best third-placed teams from the group stage.