Mat Leckie has given Australia priceless momentum ahead of its World Cup campaign, scoring twice in a stunning and confidence-boosting 4-0 defeat of the Czech Republic.
Australia’s first win under Bert van Marwijk gathered pace after a turgid half-hour, culminating in a rout in the unlikely setting of St Polten, Austria.
Leckie’s strikes bookended Andrew Nabbout’s first goal in an Australian shirt, with Milos Degenek forcing an own goal to complete the scoring.
There was even time for a debut for World Cup hopeful Daniel Arzani, who came on with six minutes remaining but saw precious little of the ball.
The contest was a final chance for each Socceroo to press their claims for a place in the 23-man squad, with four players to be cut from the provisional group by Monday.
Van Marwijk declared he was “satisfied” with the performance but wouldn’t be drawn on the fate of individuals heading to Russia.
“When you win it’s always better. It’s good for the confidence,” he said.
“It helps and it is also important for individual players.”
The fine team showing will ensure no player that took the field will see their prospects worsen.
With just a few hundred fans in the stands, Australia began tentatively against the world number 45s but an increase in tempo on the half-hour mark brought an opener.
A fast-paced move saw Tom Rogic hold possession 30 metres from goal, sweeping it right for the overlapping run of Josh Risdon.
The full-back swung in a deep cross which was cut back by Robbie Kruse for Leckie to race in and tap home.
The goal brought some Socceroo swagger, unseen so far in two friendlies under van Marwijk.
On 55 minutes, Nabbout reclaimed possession and turned his man before striking home.
The former Newcastle Jets winger was perhaps the only surprise in van Marwijk’s starting XI, which also featured Mark Milligan at centre back.
But given the Dutchman’s previous comment that he “did not have time for experiments”, surely his decision to start the 25-year-old means he will travel to Russia.
Leckie cut onto his left boot for Australia’s third after 72 minutes before Degenek’s cross was deflected in by Jakub Jugas eight minutes later.
The win was Australia’s first success outside home soil since September 2016, 12 matches ago, and most welcome given the imposing World Cup opener with France just a fortnight away.
The loss was Czech Republic’s biggest-ever defeat since their formation in 1994.