Australia coach Graham Arnold sought to temper growing expectations around teenage striker Garang Kuol after the 18-year-old shone from the bench in his Socceroos debut during a 2-0 win against New Zealand on Sunday.
The Central Coast Mariners striker, who celebrated his birthday this month, featured for the final 17 minutes of the game at Auckland’s Eden Park and made a telling contribution as his pace and deft touch troubled the All Whites defence.
His impressive performance was the latest in a brief career for a player who has yet to start an A-League game but who appears increasingly likely to be included in Arnold’s squad for November’s World Cup squad in Qatar.
“He’s come in and settled in very well, all the boys love him,” said Arnold. “He felt very relaxed when he went onto the pitch because he’s already part of the family.
“When he went out there he did well, but this is not even the first step for the kid, he’s got a hell of a long way to go. He’s got to put on some beef and muscle.
“He’s quick, obviously, but at the same time he needs improvement in his decision making and in his defensive efforts.” Kuol was instrumental in Australia’s second goal minutes after his introduction from the bench, opening up the New Zealand defence before Liberato Cacace’s handball in the area resulted in Jason Cummings converting from the penalty spot.
Cummings, one of six players to make his debut, struck after Mitch Duke had given Australia the lead. Arnold acknowledged he will struggle to decide who will be included in his squad for clashes against France, Tunisia and Denmark.
He stressed, though, that featuring regularly at club level will be key with the Socceroos unable to play again ahead of the finals.
“I’m going to reach out to Panadol to be our new sponsor because I’m going to have quite a number of headaches to fit in a 26-man squad,” he said.
“Today’s not the last day for players to get chosen, I’ll make that clear.
“Because Qatar has a short lead-in of maybe seven days, the boys have got to go back to their clubs, they’ve got seven weeks, they’ve got to play, they’ve got to be fit.
“They’ve probably got to be the fittest they’ve ever been.”