Vietnam 0 Australia 1 (Grant 42′)

The Socceroos sealed their tenth consecutive World Cup qualifying victory with a 1-0 win over Vietnam in Hanoi, but few would have requested the replay for the flight home after a largely frustrating night.

Rhyan Grant’s maiden international goal was enough against a defensively diligent Vietnam who looked the part on the occasions they attacked, but never truly committed numbers forward despite trailing the entire second half.

Grant’s goal on 42 minutes eased the angst that had built across an opening half in which Australia dominated possession, but lacked the poise they’d shown against China. Ajdin Hrustic’s recycled cross caught Vietnam napping, with Grant heading home unmarked at the back post– for 74% of possession, it was their first shot on target.

Grant had earlier been central to the game’s other flashpoint, when his block of Nguyen Phong Hong Duy’s shot went under the VAR microscope. It came at the culmination of Vietnam’s best moment on 28 minutes, but the arm was adjudged close enough to the body when struck.

Australia had been hassled by China for the opening stages of their previous match but faced no such argument from Park Hang-Seo’s side, who immediately settled into the defensive structure that served them well until the half against Saudi Arabia.

Graham Arnold tweaked his team and tactics with Grant and the recalled Brad Smith pressing aggressively from their wide defensive positions, while Awer Mabil and Riley McGree tucked in up top.

Smith and Mabil enjoyed ample room on the left with Vietnam’s focus on the centre of the park, veteran Nguyen Trong Ho leading the charge as they clogged Tom Rogic and Adam Taggart. Rogic eventually met the challenge but Mabil lacked a final ball, and McGree and Smith were subbed out in the second half having made little impact.

Vietnam failed to noticeably up the ante in the second half and retained their counterattacking mindset, perhaps surprising given the promise shown in fleeting trips forward.

The talent of Nguyen Tien Linh and Nguyen Trong Hoang was apparent but Park kept others shackled; they’d threaten on the burst but arrive at the box friendless, too isolated to recycle their chances.

Then again perhaps it was their intention to escape this window with a respectable goal difference. Their away trip to Saudi Arabia and one against Australia are now behind them and while they’ll prop up the table for now, they’re not without hope.

From a broader perspective things are ticking along nicely for Arnold’s side ahead of matches against Oman and Japan in the second week of October. Ten consecutive qualifying wins is an AFC first, joining just Germany, Mexico and Spain globally.

The clash against Oman at Bankwest Stadium on October 7th should also represent a joyous homecoming, in what will be their first match in Australia since October 2019.

Whether Grant retains the right-back position ahead of Fran Karacic long-term is up for debate, but his goal and influence felt like reward for his sacrifice in spending potential months in the Middle East, training solo to avoid quarantine and fulfil 2021’s remaining matches.

“It was a difficult match… we knew coming here would be tough and it was, we came here for the three points and that’s the most important thing”, he said at full time.

“I snuck in at the back post and it bounced up for me, I didn’t know whether to square it or go for goal. I went for glory and luckily it went in.”

“I’m staying overseas, ticking over and staying fit. It’s a quick turnaround between these windows… I’m looking forward to changing it up, having a little adventure and seeing what happens.”

Arnold unlocked Grant’s potential at Sydney FC and has now reaped the benefits for the national side.

“I’m so grateful for Rhyan himself, he was the only A-League player to put his hand up to come. He’s so proud to play for his country.”

“From my personal conversation had with him beforehand he was worried about his fitness, but as I said to him freshness and adrenaline will get you through. He’s done a great job in both games.”

Willem van Denderen