Australian captain Jedinak suffers injury scareThe perfect start as Socceroos show glimpses of Ange Postecoglou’s visionPostecoglou has reason to smile after Socceroos blitz KuwaitSecurity measures won’t be ramped up for ANZ Stadium Asian Cup fixtures
The Socceroos got off to a flying start in their Asian Cup opener, defeating Kuwait 4-1 on a rainy night in Melbourne – but not before giving the 25,000-plus crowd an early scare.
Ange Postecoglou’s team trailed for more than 20 minutes in the first half after conceding an early lead before getting on top of their game but outclassed opponents
Tim Cahill – who else – spared the nation’s blushes when he levelled in the 33rd minute after Australia had been rocked to its foundations when the Kuwaitis, whom few had given any chance, took a shock lead in the eighth minute.
Cahill’s leveller steadied nerves. Massimo Luongo put Australia in front shortly before the interval and captain Mile Jedinak wrapped the game up with a penalty in the 62nd minute. James Troisi iced the cake with a fourth in stoppage time.
The margin could have been greater as Australia twice hit the woodwork, through Mathew Leckie and Nathan Burns.
Kuwait had barely got out of their own half in the opening minutes as the hosts, inspired by a vociferous crowd bedecked in yellow team shirts, roared them on. But when they did the visitors made the most of their opportunity.
Sultan Alenezi broke down the right and played a backheel to teammate Khaled Alqahtani, who returned the pass before Alenezi played it forward to go out for a corner.
From the resultant set piece Australia’s defenders stood and watched as Ali Hussain Fadhel ran unchecked to stoop and head the cross past Mat Ryan in the Australian goal.
It was hardly the start the hosts had expected and a stunned silence fell as the pessimists in the crowd began to wonder if history would repeat: the last time Kuwait played the Socceroos on Australian soil they had pulled off a stunning 1-0 win in Canberra in an Asian Cup qualifier in 2009.
The Kuwaitis, long on endeavour and commitment but short on adventure, parked not one but a fleetload of buses in front of their own goal and sought to hold on to an advantage they could only have dreamed of enjoying so early in the game.
Would the Socceroos panic? Would they have the quality to break down the massed ranks of Kuwait resistance and find a way to avoid being on the end of the sort of upset which is all too common for host nations in the opening games of major tournaments.
Postecoglou’s side enjoyed the bulk of possession but were frustrated on numerous occasions by desperate Kuwaiti defence and their inability to find the pass that would thread a way through.
Postecoglou had sprung a surprise in his starting line-up, leaving out the experienced Mark Bresciano and starting young Luongo in midfield.
It was a move that raised eyebrows but was to pay dividends. Luongo, a former Tottenham youth team player now at pace-setting League One club Swindon Town, may lack the guile of his seniors. But his energy, dynamism and drive added zest to the attack and it was he who set up Cahill for the equaliser just after the half-hour mark.
Luongo received the ball from an Ivan Franjic throw on the right and powered away from three opponents before pulling the ball back for Cahill to sweep a rising shot past Hameed Youssef, who in truth had had little to do to that point.
The goal was the least Australia deserved for its pressure, and having broken through once it always looked likely to go on and get a second – as it duly did just before the interval.
And it was Luongo again who made the difference, this time applying the finishing touch himself when he rose to head home from a Franjic cross, getting away from defenders and connecting with the ball just before Cahill could launch himself in its direction.
The second half began as the first half had ended, with the Australians buzzing and looking to put the game to bed with a third goal. Cahill almost got a second just before the hour mark when the ball broke to him inside the penalty area and he drove low, only to be denied by a good save from Hameed.
Then Leckie came agonisingly close with a thunderous drive which beat the goalkeeper all ends up but crashed to safety off the underside of the crossbar.
The third goal came shortly after however, and it arrived from the penalty spot after Robbie Kruse, who had drawn a number of fouls all evening, was brought down in the area. Jedinak calmly sent the goalkeeper the wrong way and stroked the ball into an empty net. Substitute Burns went close, Hameed produced some good saves and although Kuwait showed some more adventure as they sought to reduce the deficit there was only going to be one winner.