Central Coast Mariners's Garang Kuol boosts World Cup hopes with game-changing cameo at Western Sydney

A game-changing appearance off the bench from Garang Kuol lifted the Central Coast Mariners to a 3-0 win over Western Sydney Wanderers in their A-League Men clash and boosted the teenager's case for inclusion in Australia's squad for the 2022 World Cup.

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Despite doing all the running in the first half -- Brian Kaltack meeting a corner with a powerful header that rocketed off the crossbar in the 13th minute the best of their chances -- the Mariners failed to convert their control of the game into goals.

But the introduction of Kuol in the 63rd minute instantly changed the game. The teenage dynamo's defensive pressure set up Michael Ruhs' opener three minutes later and his cutback for Ruhs in the 72nd doubled the Mariners' advantage. Samuel Silvera's rocket in the 81st minute then sealed the result.

JUMP TO: Player ratings | Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Postmatch quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures

Rapid reaction

1. A Kuolity showing

Aside from the supporters of the two teams, the big reason to follow along on Saturday had less to do with the actual contest than it did the play of Kuol and Jason Cummings. The contest represented the final occasion that the two fringe Socceroos would play before Graham Arnold names his 26-player squad for the World Cup on Tuesday.

With both players likely on the outside of the final roster looking in as they headed into the game, a big performance was needed -- and a big performance was what Kuol delivered.

It took just minutes for the Newcastle United-bound teenager to create his side's first goal when his defensive pressure and tackle on Ruon Tongyik knocked the ball clear for Ruhs to fire home. Six minutes later, Kuol's cutback -- which a VAR review determined was onside by the finest of margins -- was delivered despite him having an angle to take the chance of himself, demonstrating the coolness under pressure and instinctual clarity of action that has set him apart at such a young age.

Despite being raw and possessing aspects of his game needing further development, Kuol quite simply possesses a striking ability to make things happen on a football pitch. It defies logic that it keeps happening, especially given that he's not sneaking up on any opposition anymore, but it does.

2. Cummings faces nervous wait

Alas for Cummings, despite his pass to Kuol setting the 18-year-old up to tee up Ruhs and providing the assist for Silvera's third, he was largely overshadowed by his teenage teammate. The forward couldn't find a signature moment for himself that would put a bow on his case for a place in the World Cup squad.

The Scottish-born Socceroo was well contained by the Wanderers centre-back pairing of Tomislav Mrcela and Marcelo Guedes across the opening half, during which he was only able to produce a lone effort on goal. His subsequent inability to get a proper shot off when he was played through for a one-on-one chance in transition just minutes after the break, instead losing the ball underfoot, felt like a symbolic moment. So too did Wanderer goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas' effort to deny his attempt to make it 4-0 with just minutes remaining.

Cummings possesses a skillset that can be a genuine asset to the Socceroos in Qatar and his play since arriving midway through the last ALM season likely merits a call-up. He's likely better suited to contribute than Kuol is.

But it's Arnold picking the squad, and he's already passed over Cummings for make-or-break games despite strong domestic form. Whether or not the striker's standout performances earlier in the season and his role in the Mariners' strong second half will be enough to see him break into the established attacking stocks of the national team is an open question.

3. Wanderers face questions

Of course, Saturday's contest wasn't just staged for two players to audition for the World Cup. There were also three points on the line and, come to the end of the 90, lessons learned for both sides -- particularly the hosts.

Entering the game as the league's most resolute defence -- conceding just a single game in their opening four games -- the Wanderers immediately settled into their familiar niche from the opening kick-off: sitting back, looking to absorb their foes' best shot and then find something on the counter. But as Western United found out last week, simply allowing the Mariners to try, try and try again is not a recipe for success, especially when you're unable to create anything going in transition in the opposite direction.

The Wanderers were only able to produce one shot from inside the penalty area throughout the 90 minutes and that effort, a shot deep into first-half stoppage time from Adama Traore, went well wide. It took nearly 20 minutes for them to produce a shot after Ruhs' opener and that strike, a long-range effort from Brandon Borrello, was blocked before it could enter the Mariners' penalty area, as was Calem Nieuwenhof's subsequent 91st-minute effort.

Based on the opening five weeks of the season the Wanderers still look like a finals team; there are simply too many teams in ALM that struggle as the active side in possession to punish them for their game style. But if the Wanderers can find a way to create enough high-quality chances to trouble the teams with the attacking talent to break them down will be a challenge for Rudan.

Player ratings

Western Sydney Wanderers: Thomas 5, Traore 5, Marcelo 6.5, Mrcela 5.5, Cleur 6, Ninkovic 6.5, Amalfitano 6.5, Nieuwenhof 7, Borrello 6, Najjarine 5.5, Krpic 5

Subs: Tongyik 4.5

Central Coast Mariners: Vukovic 7, Farrell 8, Kaltak 7, Triantis 7, Aquilina 7.5, N'Kololo 7, Nisbet 7, Ballard 7, Tulio 6,5, Cummings 7.5, Ayongo 6

Subs: Kuol 8, Ruhs 8, Silvera 7

Best and worst performers

BEST: The Mariners' bench

For the second week in a row, coach Nick Montgomery's substitutes won the game for the Mariners: Kuol, Ruhs and Silvera all pivotal in their side breaking through the Wanderers' defences.

WORST: Ruon Tongyik

Was introduced as a half-time substitute by Rudan as the Wanderers shifted to a back five only to cough the ball up under pressure for the Mariners' first.

Highlights and notable moments

Moments after his introduction, Kuol forced a turnover that led to Ruhs' opener

Cummings, Kuol, and Ruhs then combined to make it two.

Assisted by Cummings, Silvera then sealed the result

After the match: What the players and managers said

Kuol on the game to Network Ten: "I reckon we dominated. The boys worked hard and we just couldn't find that goal in the first half. But me and Ruhs found some energy in the second half and the goal was always coming. Happy to get two goals quickly and after [that] I think the game was dead."

Kuol on if he could have done more to bolster his World Cup hopes: "Of course, I could have scored. Just unlucky that the chances didn't come."

Key stats (via ESPN Stats & Info)

While the three goals were good, Saturday's win also represented the Mariners' first clean sheet for the 2022-23 season.

The win was just the third time that the Mariners have ever defeated Western Sydney as the away side.

Cummings now has two goals and three assists on the season, as well as a number of other strikes disallowed.

Up next

Western Sydney Wanderers: A huge test awaits for the Wanderers look to bounce back in the ALM's final round before it breaks for the World Cup: a Sydney Derby against Sydney FC at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday night.

Central Coast Mariners: By that point knowing if two, one, or none of their players are headed to Qatar, the Mariners will host Macarthur FC on Sunday afternoon in their last pre-World Cup fixture.