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12 Dec 2023 12:18
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  •   Home > News > Sports > Soccer

    Socceroos not taking Palestine for granted, as Jerusalem-born 'prodigy' looms as biggest threat

    Led by defender Harry Souttar, the Socceroos want to keep a high level of concentration as well as a clean sheet in their World Cup qualifier against Palestine.

    The Socceroos are determined to stay focused when they face Palestine in their away World Cup qualifier.

    Graham Arnold's charges take on Palestine in Kuwait on Tuesday night local time (1am Wednesday AEDT), determined to maintain the perfect start to their campaign.

    Tuesday's match at the Jaber Al-Ahmed International Stadium was originally scheduled to be held in the West Bank but had to be moved due to the escalation of violence in the region.

    The Socceroos have announced they will donate a portion of their match fees towards Oxfam's humanitarian efforts in Gaza.

    Kuwait was chosen by Palestine as the venue for the relocated "home" fixture and the crowd is expected to be significantly pro-Palestine.

    Australia kicked off their campaign with a comprehensive 7-0 thrashing of Bangladesh in Melbourne while Palestine drew 0-0 with Lebanon.

    But defender Harry Souttar certainly was not taking anything for granted.

    "There's no easy games of football and there's always going to be good players no matter what level you play at," he said.

    "So we know we're going to have to be on the top of our game.

    "First and foremost, it'll [the focus will] be a clean sheet, really.

    "Against these teams, we know that we're going to have more of the ball.

    "So it's about our concentration levels, because any given day, you never know what could happen."

    Souttar has consistently led Australia's defence under Graham Arnold and impressed, shaking off his lack of game time at Leicester City.

    "I've got to thank the boss for continuing to select me and play me even though I've not been playing at club," he said.

    "His trust in me that I can go out there and perform is big.

    "So for me to go into every match with not just playing for your country and wanting to play well, but obviously trying to repay his faith.

    "I'd like to think I'm one that really speaks on the park and helps players alongside me. I think the manager knows that and he really trusts me to get his message across on the pitch as well."

    Souttar, who stands more than 200cm tall, is confident he is now respected as a centre-back well beyond just his height.

    "As long as the people that are selecting me — the boss [Arnold], Rene [Meulensteen], Bugsy [Brad Maloney] can see what I can do on the ball and trust me, then that's fine by me," he said.

    "Certainly, at this stage of the campaign, a lot obviously does get made about my height.

    "But as long as we keep winning football matches and keep going in the right direction, then people can say what they want."

    Socceroos wary of Dabbagh threat

    The Socceroos will be most wary of Palestinian striker Oday Dabbagh.

    Dabbagh, who was born in Jerusalem and plays in Belgium, is arguably Palestine's most impressive talent, and shapes as their biggest goalscoring hope in Tuesday's qualifier.

    Wherever he goes, Dabbagh scores goals.

    Dabbagh, 24, worked his way through the Palestinian and Kuwaiti leagues before moving to Europe with Portuguese club Arouca, then Belgian Pro League club Charleroi.

    "He can go very high, this kid is a prodigy," midfielder Mohammed Bassim Rashid said.

    "He's like a wonder kid in Palestine. Nobody can get close to the level and for us, we have pride in how he is doing.

    "We speak so highly about him, but this season, if he does good, I think many clubs will be looking at him because there's the AFC Cup, there's the World Cup qualifiers.

    "We're playing Australia and it all depends on him, what he can do on the field, but I know for a fact he is going to do a lot of damage, he has high, really high potential."

    Socceroos centre-back Souttar said he would not be underestimating Dabbagh.

    "Obviously, we've seen a few clips of him and we know he's a handy customer," Souttar said.

    "But there's no easy games of football and there's always gonna be good players no matter what level of football you play at."

    Dabbagh made his international debut as a 19-year-old in 2018 and faced Australia in the 2019 Asian Cup.

    He is a far more established player now.

    After scoring 11 goals in 37 games in Portugal, Dabbagh has scored three goals and notched two assists this season in Belgium.

    "He has something special and I'm not surprised he is playing in the top league in Belgium and scored so many goals in Portuguese first division in a team that almost got relegated," goalkeeper Amr Kaddoura said.

    "He is our biggest star and I hope he can take more steps and show that he's from Palestine and everybody recognises him and says, 'hey, this guy is from Palestine'.

    "It's a big achievement for us and I brag about the fact I get to play with him.

    "Him scoring goals and producing in some of the biggest leagues is not a small thing for us."


    © 2023 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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