The future and past collided for the Socceroos in Sydney as Tim Cahill bid an emotional goodbye while a recent arrival from Scotland introduced himself to the nation in a 3-0 win against Lebanon at ANZ Stadium.
Matin Boyle scored twice on his starting debut for the Socceroos on Tuesday, but the night rightfully belonged to Cahill.
— ANZ Stadium (@ANZStadium) November 20, 2018
Coach Graham Arnold swung the changes to the team that scored a late equaliser in a 1-1- draw with Korea Republic last Saturday in Brisbane.
Tom Rogic and Robbie Kruse were omitted from the team due to minor injury complaints while skipper Mark Milligan was rested.
Mathew Leckie, Jamie Maclaren, Josh Risdon and Massimo Luongo dropped to the bench as Arnold auditions his players for spots in his Asian Cup squad.
Sydney FC’s Rhyan Grant was rewarded for his early season form with his Socceroos debut with a start at right back.
Milos Degenek has enjoyed an impressive few months at Red Star Belgrade and was brought in to partner Trent Sainsbury in the centre of defence in place of Milligan.
Mustafa Amini and Jackson Irvine were given an opportunity to team up with Aaron Mooy in midfield. Mooy has played a deeper-lying role in the middle of the park in recent times but Arnold pushed him forward to provide some creative spark in the final third.
Scoring goals has been a serious headache for the Socceroos and Arnold was still searching for a potent combination up front.
Tomi Juric was given another opportunity to lead the line while support in attack was expected from Awer Mabil and recently arrived Scottish-Australian Martin Boyle who were both handed their first starts in the national shirt.
Boyle almost had his first Socceroos goal in the third minute when a cross from the left floated past the back post and dropped into his path but his close-range volley was smothered at the near post by Lebanese keeper Mehdi Khalil.
Amini was lively in midfield early on and Boyle was causing the Lebanese defence headaches with his speed and movement as a new-look Socceroos outfit dominated possession but was still working on its rhythm.
Boyle got his reward in the 19th minute as he drove hard from the left to cut inside and fire at goal from the top of the penalty box. His shot took a nasty deflection that left Khalil stranded and the newly minted Australian had his first goal as a Socceroo.
Martin Boyle scores his first goal for Australia! 🇦🇺
— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) November 20, 2018
Lebanon couldn’t generate any meaningful possession as it struggled to get out of its half.
Boyle made them pay on 40 minutes when a Mooy corner was flicked on at the near post by Degenek, whose header crashed into the crossbar. Boyle was first to react and darted it into the net to make it 2-0 to Australia at the break.
Lebanon coach Miodrag Radulovic has qualified his team for its first major tournament in 18 years, with the Cedars earning a spot at January’s Asian Cup.
His team lifted their intensity after half-time but after 60 minutes it was still unable to fashion a shot on target. But it wasn’t due to a lack of industry.
Mabil made way for Leckie in the 65th minute and the Hertha Berlin man had an instant impact.
Mooy picked up Boyle’s run on the right and the debutant’s cross was swept home sweetly on the half volley by Leckie to give Australia its third goal.
By now the crowd were voting with their voices for the main act.
They wanted Timmy.
Tim Cahill pulled on his famous No.4 shirt for the 108th and last time and in the 80th minute, he ran onto the pitch to a thunderous ovation.
Andrew Nabbout went closest to adding a fourth for Australia when he burst into the box and saw his shot cannon off the back post.
There would be no final Cahill classic to sign off with for the Socceroos legend, but it mattered little.
Australia was about to say goodbye to its greatest Socceroo as it celebrated the work of one of its newest.
Boyle has looked remarkably comfortable in this Socceroos line-up having only arrived in the country last week. He put it down to the hospitality of his teammates.
“It was thoroughly enjoyable. I’m always trying to get on the ball and be busy for the team. You’ve got to be in the right place to score the goals and thankfully I was,” Boyle said.
“They’ve been brilliant. I couldn’t ask for any more. They’ve all welcomed me. I’m an easygoing guy and if you put performances in like that, you’re just going to fit in.”
Cahill was emotional after the match as he was presented to the crowd alongside his family.
He thanked his family, coaches and teammates past and present and he gave the fans a heartfelt goodbye as well.
“The most important people as well – the fans. It was tough for me to play for Australia at the start and every time I wore the green and gold I played with my heart. This is as much for all of youse [sic] as it is for me,” Cahill said.
“The difference between being good and great is producing on the big stages and it’s been an absolute pleasure.”
Tim Cahill, seriously, the pleasure has been all ours.