Melbourne City striker Jamie Maclaren scored a treble as the Caltex Socceroos earned a dominant 5-0 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying win against Nepal.
Maclaren hit a quick-fire double inside 20 minutes, the second assisted by Sydney FC's Rhyan Grant, as Graham Arnold’s side controlled possession and territory in the first international played in Canberra in four years.
Towering defender Harry Souttar threatened from set pieces throughout and the Scotland-born 20-year-old glanced in a third on 23 minutes to mark his international debut with a goal.
Souttar scored again from close range with the help of a huge deflection on 59 minutes and Maclaren's late strike completed the rout against the team ranked 161 in the world, 117 places behind behind the Caltex Socceroos.
The victory in Australia’s only home match of 2019 makes it a perfect six points from two games in Group B, with Graham Arnold’s side facing a trip to play Chinese Taipei on Tuesday, October 15.
Arnold made five changes from the 3-0 win in Kuwait, fielding a brand new centre-half partnership with Souttar earning his first senior cap, becoming Caltex Socceroo number 606, alongside fellow England-based defender Bailey Wright.
Maclaren led the line in relief of Adam Taggart, Craig Goodwin started in place of Brandon Borrello and Mark Milligan returned to international action for the first since the AFC Asian Cup 2019 to lead the Caltex Socceroos out at GIO Stadium.
James Jeggo and Milos Degenek took their places on the bench, with Trent Sainsbury left out of the squad to work on his fitness levels, but Australia showed no lack of cohesion from the off.
Head coach Johan Kalin’s team were pinned deep in their own territory in the opening stages and Jackson Irvine was denied a fifth-minute opener when his effort cannoned back off goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong during a goal-mouth scramble.
A minute later, the floodgates opened as Aaron Mooy rolled a free-kick to Goodwin and his rifled shot ricocheted back to Maclaren to tap in the rebound from inside the six-yard box.
The Melbourne City hitman almost doubled his tally in the 10th minute but could not react quickly enough to direct his header on target after Chemjong palmed away Irvine’s header from Goodwin’s free-kick.
With the Caltex Socceroos full-backs camped in the Nepal half, Maclaren’s second arrived on 19 minutes. Aziz Behich’s floated cross was headed back across goal by Grant and the 26-year-old was left to nod in his third international goal.
Australia continued to dominate as Mooy’s strike deflected wide and, from the resulting corner, the 6’ 6” frame of Souttar towered above the visiting defence to power in a debut goal from Goodwin’s delivery.
Milligan almost got in on the act with a stinging drive on 33 minutes, which was held at the second-attempt by Chemjong, before Mooy took aim once again but saw his shot whistle the wrong side of the Nepalese post.
The Himalayans registered their first attempt on 44 minutes, before Matthew Leckie found the net with a thunderous 25-yard effort. However, the goal was ruled out with Maclaren in an offside position as Australia took a 3-0 lead into the interval having recorded 16 first-half shots.
Irvine slammed a shot over the Nepal crossbar from distance on 47 minutes as Australia picked up where they left off before the break.
A vocal away support made themselves herd when Nepal earned their first corner on 51 minutes, but the Caltex Socceroos were soon back on the offensive when Goodwin’s close-range header from Mooy’s pin-point cross was pushed away by Chemjong.
Maclaren was denied a hat-trick by Chemjong’s out-stretched foot after Leckie drilled a low delivery across goal, and Souttar was on the mark again from the resulting corner.
This time his flicked header seemed to be heading straight at the gloveman Chemjong but the ball nestled in the corner after glancing off the jersey of a Nepalese defender.
Arnold sent on Apostolos Giannou for Mooy as Australia went with two up front, and Ajdin Hrustic and Awer Mabil were introduced to freshen up the home side’s attack.
The Caltex Socceroos went in search of a fifth but Goodwin but hammered an effort wide on 67 minutes and Mabil's shooting radar proved to be off on 80 minutes.
Souttar saw a golden chance for a treble pass him by when his header flashed wide of the post but Maclaren made no mistake after collecting Irvine's impressive chest pass and firing past Chemjong in stoppage time to wrap up Australia's biggest home win since 2016.
Arnold and his team face a short turnaround before flying out to Chinese Taipei ahead of their third match in Group B, which is played at Kaohsiung Stadium on Tuesday, 15 October.