Australia have been held to a dour 0-0 draw by the United Arab Emirates at a hot and humid Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium on Saturday morning (AEDT).
In a match of few clear cut chances, the Socceroos struggled to mount any serious pressure in the attacking third but coach Ange Postecoglou will surely be pleased by an improved defensive showing.
The Alex Wilkinson-Trent Sainsbury partnership in the heart of the defence performed well, ensuring the Socceroos managed their first clean sheet in nine matches.
Another bright spot was Robbie Kruse’s long-awaited comeback from a knee injury, getting through 60 minutes and showing some encouraging signs he will be a key player come January’s AFC Asian Cup.
Postecoglou threw up a surprise before kick-off, leaving Tim Cahill on the bench and handing a debut to Sydney FC attacker Bernie Ibini up front.
But it was Mathew Leckie who had the first chance inside two minutes, out-pacing Mohamed Ahmad to Mile Jedinak’s lofted ball but his effort was wide of the mark.
The searing heat, which nudged 35 degrees in Abu Dhabi, contributed to a slow tempo early on with the hosts content to play at almost a walking pace at times.
But the Socceroos managed to get into several promising areas in around the UAE box but were often let down by the final pass.
After being largely untroubled for the first 25 minutes, the visitors had Wilkinson to thank for denying UAE the opener.
Ali Ahmed Mabkhout sprung the offside trap and raced clear on goal, dinking the ball over ‘keeper Mat Ryan but Wilkinson was on the line to head over the crossbar to safety.
Australia though finished the half in the ascendency and almost took a lead to the break after a fantastic set piece from a free-kick.
Mark Milligan ran onto Jedinak’s chipped free-kick – after starting next to his skipper – but his glancing header went just wide of the post.
Leckie managed to test Ali Khaseif early in the second half after being freed up on the edge of the box by some nice build-up play from Milligan and Massimo Luongo, but his tame shot was easily saved.
A tiring Socceroos seemed to find a second win with the introduction of substitutes James Troisi and Brad Smith on the hour mark.
Soon after Milligan spotted Leckie’s incisive run in behind the UAE defence, picking the FC Ingolstadt man out with an inch-perfect pass but his first-time shot was well saved by Khaseif.
Confusion in the UAE box almost saw Ibini cap his debut with a goal but he couldn’t get significant connection on his snap-shot from just eight yards out.
Australia’s greatest-ever goal-scorer Cahill came on for the last 15 minutes and had a trademark headed chance which sailed before Sainsbury squandered a gilt-edged chance at the death.
A corner was headed towards goal by Cahill, finding Sainsbury just a couple of yards out but his flick went up over the bar to ensure the match would finish goal-less.
United Arab Emirates 0