Maclaren hits hat-trick as Australia hammer Bangladesh in World Cup qualifier

By AFP   November 16, 2023 | 06:16 am PT
Maclaren hits hat-trick as Australia hammer Bangladesh in World Cup qualifier
Australia's Harry Souttar (yellow #19) celebrates scoring a goal during their 2026 FIFA World Cup Asian qualification football match between Australia and Bangladesh played in Melbourne on Nov. 16, 2023. Photo by AFP/William West
Substitute Jamie Maclaren hit a second-half hat-trick as Australia crushed Bangladesh 7-0 to kick off Asian qualifying for the 2026 World Cup with a bang on Thursday.

Leicester City defender Harry Souttar's fourth-minute header set the tone in Melbourne as the Socceroos enjoyed a perfect start in their bid to make the expanded 48-team tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Mitchell Duke added two more and Brandon Borrello was also on target as the hosts raced 4-0 clear by the break, before Maclaren's second-half bonanza, all well-taken tap-ins.

"Seven goals, but it could have been more, for me too, but three points and we move on," said Maclaren.

"I'm not even sure (goalkeeper) Maty (Ryan) had a save to make so proud of the team, but we obviously know the next games are going to be harder."

Australia are also pitted in Group I with Palestine and Lebanon, who meet in Sharjah later.

A record eight direct spots and one intercontinental playoff berth are at stake for Asian Football Confederation sides, from nine groups of four.

Japan and South Korea play later Thursday, against Myanmar and Singapore respectively. Japan are targeting an eighth straight World Cup and the Koreans an 11th.

Both sides made the last 16 at Qatar 2022, as did Australia.

Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia, who upset eventual champions Argentina in Doha, face Pakistan, perennial underperformers China meet Thailand and heavyweights Iran take on Hong Kong.

The top two from each group go through to the final qualifying round, with Graham Arnold's Socceroos aiming to be among them as they eye a sixth consecutive World Cup.

Ranked 27 in the world to Bangladesh's 183, they were always on top at AAMI Park, dominating possession against a team that created few opportunities.

Australia needed just four minutes to open their account, with towering Scottish-born Souttar rising unmarked to head home Graig Goodwin's floating free kick.

An inevitable second followed 16 minutes later, courtesy of Western Sydney Wanderers winger Borrello, who had an easy tap-in after a low cross from Jordan Bos.

Japan-based Duke scored twice inside three minutes before the break, the first a deft header and then on the rebound after a Borrello volley clattered the post.

Melbourne City striker Maclaren pounced twice after the restart to seal the game as the Bangladesh defence was sliced open, and added a third with six minutes left.

It should have been 8-0, but Massimo Luongo missed a late penalty.

Victory sealed another good night for the veteran coach Arnold, who took charge for a record 59th game, elevating him above Frank Farina as the longest-serving coach in Socceroos history.

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