By Vince Rugari
London: For the second time in four months, Australia are leaving England with the Ashes.
Well, they would be if they’d made the trip.
Rediscovered in a suburban Sydney garage after going missing for almost 70 years, the ‘Soccer Ashes’ re-took their rightful place as the symbol of trans-Tasman football supremacy on Tuesday night (Wednesday morning AEDT) – and by virtue of having won the last time they went up for grabs in 1954, the Socceroos’ 2-0 win over New Zealand meant they technically retained them.
But the trophy itself – the ornate wooden casket, the razor case that was carried on the fields of battle at Gallipoli in World War I, and the remnants of two cigars smoked by the Australian and New Zealand captains back in 1923 – went missing again.
Deemed too frail and too precious to be risked on a long-haul flight to south-west London, the Ashes remained back in Sydney, with Socceroos skipper Maty Ryan instead hoisting a simple silver cup procured for this occasion; he won’t actually get his hands on them until the next time they face the All Whites at home, whenever that happens to be.
The performance itself was decent enough, with the Socceroos easily taking care of business against the world No.104-ranked Kiwis – although there was no flood of goals as coach Graham Arnold would have preferred to see in Australia’s last friendly before World Cup qualifying for 2026 begins next month against Bangladesh and Palestine.
Mitch Duke unleashes the strike which led to Australia’s opening goal, ultimately awarded to Harry Souttar (right).Credit: Getty
“On another night, we could have five or six, and we should have,” Arnold said. “We dominated the game in that way. When we come up against the smaller nations in Asia, we’ve got to be more brutal when it comes to those chances.”
Unlike the last time an Australian team retained the Ashes in England, the locals were largely none the wiser.
The rest of the country was watching England’s European qualifier against Italy at Wembley Stadium being played at the same time, but a boisterous crowd of 5761 mostly Antipodean expats braved the cold at Brentford’s Gtech Community Stadium to take in this clash.
Among them were scouts from 15 clubs across Europe, including English Premier League sides Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United as well as Bayern Munich, Rangers and Empoli.
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They would have been impressed with some of the flashes shown by Arnold’s starters. He made five changes from Friday night’s gallant 1-0 defeat to England – including a long-awaited debut for Alessandro Circati, the Parma defender who has opted to represent Australia over Italy.
Circati had been in two prior Socceroos camps without getting a run but looked immediately comfortable at the level, paired with Harry Souttar in the centre of defence, with Lewis Miller on the right, Aziz Behich on the left and Jordan Bos used on the left wing.
He even grabbed an assist, heading Miller’s cross into the box in the 13th minute to set up Mitchell Duke to smack the opener into the net. His first-time shot, however, clipped the chest of Harry Souttar, who was initially credited with the goal before the match officials – quite rightly – gave it back to Duke in their final report.
Massimo Luongo was also handed his first appearance for the Socceroos since the 2019 Asian Cup, picking right up where he left off four years ago with an assured performance in midfield.
Jackson Irvine finds the back of the net for Australia’s second goal.Credit: Getty
Arnold did not send on any other inexperienced players until deep into the second half, with midfield stalwart Jackson Irvine coming off the bench to head in Australia’s second goal in the 76th minute, while Brandon Borrello and Craig Goodwin were also subbed in.
“I thought the first half was some of the best football was played in a while,” Irvine said.
“The boys were outstanding, front to back, played with confidence, found solutions. Obviously, we wanted to build on how good the defensive display was against England and create more chances and be more positive with the ball. I thought we were. Everyone was very good.”
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