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Glimpses of a bright future as Socceroos farewell their past

Soccer

There was no farewell goal but plenty of love for Tim Cahill as the Socceroos’ all-time leading goalscorer last night bowed out a winner.

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More than an hour after Australia’s 3-0 win over Lebanon, Cahill was still signing autographs and posing for photos with adoring fans and vowed to oblige every request before leaving ANZ Stadium.

“I’m still taking it all in, I’m embracing it,”‘ he told the media who spoke to him while he was still out on the ground.

“It’s everything you could dream of or wish for as a footballer at the end of your career as an international.

“Even leading into it I was really proud, really happy and content because I know everything I’ve ever done for my country has been for the right reasons, it’s not just about scoring.”

Cahill couldn’t score a 51st international goal, though on one occasion he came very close.

An inviting cross looked destined to find his head, before Lebanon defender Kassem Al Zein spoilt the moment by getting a glancing touch which flicked the ball away from the Socceroos veteran.

“I thought he misjudged it and I thought this is going to be a nice little tap in to the bottom left corner,” Cahill said.

At least ten minutes before he came on just after the 80th minute, the crowd chanted “We want Timmy.”

His name got the loudest reception when the team was announced before the game and any shot of him on the scoreboard also generated a huge cheer.

Cahill won his 108th and final cap, coming on in the 82nd minute to the delight of many of the 33,268 patrons.

He was handed the captain’s armband a few minutes later when leader for the night, Trent Sainsbury, was substituted.

Just before the end of the game even a Lebanon fan wanted to show his appreciation for Cahill, charging onto the ground and making a beeline for the 38-year-old before security pulled him away.

Scottish-born striker Martin Boyle starred in his first Socceroos start to help Cahill go out a winner.

With coach Graham Arnold looking to finalise his squad for the Asian Cup finals in the United Arab Emirates in under two months’ time, Boyle pressed his case in compelling fashion.

Boyle, whose father was born in Sydney, provided an assist for a last-gasp equaliser against South Korea last Saturday and bagged a first-half double at ANZ Stadium and an assist after the break.

Australia dominated against a side ranked 82nd, 40 places below them in the world rankings.

“There’s a lot of positives out of that but there’s still so much more improvement,” Arnold said.

“There’s a lot more to come, the movement is getting there.”

While Cahill’s international career came to an end, the most influential player on the night was Boyle, whose Socceroos journey has only just started.

His first in the 19th minute was a trifle fortunate, as his shot following an enterprising run deflected off Lebanon’s Joan Oumari.

Boyle’s second in the 41st minute was a simple two-metre tap in after Milos Degenek’s header from an Aaron Mooy corner thudded against the crossbar.

Even before his first score, the 25-year-old Hibernian winger looked Australia’s most likely source of a goal.

He had a fourth-minute shot saved by goalkeeper Mehdi Khalil and sent another attempt wide three minutes later, while Tomi Juric also went close a couple of times.

Boyle turned provider in the 68th minute when his right-wing cross was swept home emphatically by substitute Mathew Leckie, two minutes after coming on.

“I don’t think I could have asked for a better game,”‘ Boyle said.

“It felt natural, I just tried to focus on playing my own game like I do with my club.

“A lot of credit goes to Arnie – he said do your best …….don’t try and do anything spectacular, just play your normal game and that’s what I did.”

Boyle was one of seven changes Arnold made to the side that started Saturday’s game.

Sydney FC right back Grant became the 600th capped Socceroo when awarded his debut and Degenek was brought into the centre of defence.

Mustafa Amini and Jackson Irvine were called into the midfield and Boyle, Juric and Awer Mabil provided a new a strikeforce.

Jimmy Jeggo made his Socceroos debut off the bench late in the game.

The Socceroos’ progress in his three matches in charge and their playing depth has given Arnold cause for optimism.

“The culture is fantastic at the moment and when you have competition for places, it makes the environment even healthier,” Arnold said.

“I just have this real strong belief that something special is coming.”

Arnold believes he has options to fill the vacancy left in the centre of midfield after former captain Mile Jedinak retired from international duty following this year’s World Cup.

Mustafa Amini, Jeggo and Jackson Irvine put in good shifts in Sydney, with Arnold pointing out Massimo Luongo and Aaron Mooy could also play there.

“I’m asking a lot from the players with the pressing and it takes a lot of energy not letting the opposition play out, turning over possession quickly so we’re asking a lot of them physically,” Arnold said.

In-form Adelaide United winger Craig Goodwin was one man who didn’t get a run last night as Arnold looked at other forward options, but he stressed the player remained in contention for Asian Cup selection.

“Andrew Nabbout played in the World Cup and he’s come back from injury and I wanted to have a look at him,” Arnold said.

“I see Craig every week (in the A-League), Craig is doing excellent, Craig gives us something completely different as an out-and-out left winger, a left footer.

“Martin Boyle I wanted to see over the 90 minutes, Leckie I wanted to look at him at number nine.”

Speed and mobility are key to Arnold’s preference for fielding three number nines.

“Pace is a killer,” he said.

“It’s not easy when you play a team that plays a back five and plays so deep, the space is less.

“But I thought some of the combination play, the runs in behind was excellent and the finishing will come.”

-AAP

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