Socceroos scoring woes unlikely to end until players get more games

The Socceroos' failure to get past the quarter finals of the Asian Cup has produced a storm of criticism, none more so than for the team's inability to score when it matters.

But perhaps that's not surprising given the lack of proven strikers available to Graham Arnold and the lack of opportunity young forwards get in the A-League, where many of the key attacking roles are occupied by visa players.

As the former technical manager of the FFA and ex Perth Glory boss Ron Smith points out, it's hardly surprising that teams sign foreign strikers even though everyone wants to see young Australians get a chance.

''Coaches sink or swim by their results, don't they, and the pressure is always on to get points. If they think they are more likely to do that with an experienced foreigner they will probably go in that direction. It's their jobs at stake,'' says Smith.

He admits it is a conundrum for the league.

''Everyone would like to see young Australian forwards get more game time, but fans and clubs also want to win. And people always say that crowds will be more likely to come along if there are bigger name or better performing foreign strikers in teams.''

A glance at the list of winners of the Golden Boot illustrates the situation perfectly.

In the 13 completed A-League seasons foreign strikers (including the Kiwi international Shane Smeltz in 2008-09 and 2009-10) have been top scorers on nine occasions.

Players like Stewart Petrie, Sergio Van Dijk, Besart Berisha (twice), Marc Janko, Bruno Fornaroli and Bobo as well as Smeltz have topped the table, coaches at Central Coast, Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne Victory, Gold Coast United, Melbourne City and Sydney FC regarding their imports as a more likely route to goal than most locals.

In the same period the only Australian striker to figure regularly amongst the leading goalscorers was Victory's talisman Archie Thompson (who shared the award in the inaugural season alongside the Mariners Petrie, Perth's Bobby Despotovski and Roar's Alex Brosque.

Other Australian Golden Boot winners include Victory's Daniel Allsop in the 2006-07 championship season, Joel Griffiths the following year when Newcastle won the title, Daniel McBreen in the Mariners championship year (2012-13) and Adam Taggart for the Jets in 2013-14 when he had the sort of season that won him a place in Ange Postecoglou's squad for the Brazil World Cup.

Former Melbourne Victory player Archie Thompson.

Alarmingly the only Australian player to figure at the top of the list since then was Jamie Maclaren in 2016-17, and only because he tied with Fornaroli.

This season looks likely to be more of the same.

Leading the lists at present two thirds of the way through the campaign is Sydney FC's former English Premier league hitman Adam Le Fondre with 11 goals, the same as Wellington's Fijian frontman Roy Krishna.

Taggart is the only Australian in the running, with 10 goals, the same as Victory's Swede Ola Toivonen, with Perth's Irish centre forward Andy Keogh one behind on nine. Given that Taggart plays for struggling Brisbane Roar it would be a brave punter plunging on him to win the accolade for a second time.

The Asian Cup statistics do not make pleasant reading.

Australia played five games at the Asian Cup – three in the group stage and two in the knock out phase – and failed to score in three of them.

The only times they were on target was in the nail biting 3-2 win over Syria which ensured the defending champions would finish second in the group, and the 3-0 win over an outclassed Palestine.

Of those six goals three were scored by players who would be classed more as wide men than as penalty box poachers: Awer Mabil got two and Chris Ikonomidis netted one. A fourth was struck by a midfielder in Tom Rogic.

Only two – Jamie Maclaren's opener against Palestine and Apostolos Giannou's 90th minute effort in the same game – were from recognised central strikers.

There are many ways to tackle the problem, but, says the vastly experienced Smith, getting more game time into young players holds the key.

Smith's CV also includes a 10 year period running the AIS soccer programme when he brought through many of the ''golden generation'', and he says that ''opportunity is the key.''

''If you want the grass to grow well you have to have good soil, sunshine and enough rain. If you want strikers to develop they also have to have opportunity, to learn the game. The equivalent of sunshine and rain for them is game time and minutes on the pitch.''

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