Australia excite and frustrate in Asian Cup opener against Kuwait
Asian Cup hosts Australia took it upon themselves to provide a thrilling opening spectacle, but the 4-1 scoreline in the Socceroos’ favour was perhaps not as emphatic as it appeared.
Ange Postecoglou’s team certainly dominated possession, spending the majority of the game camped out in Kuwait’s half trying to prise open what had initially seemed a resilient rearguard.
Expectant Australian supporters saw their side pass the ball comfortably in their own territory, rarely pressed by their opponents, who seemed content to sit back and soak up the pressure.
The Socceroos support were soon given a rude awakening, though, as their nation appeared to have a case of opening-game jitters.
Underdogs Kuwait stunned fans by going ahead within eight minutes, with centre half and set piece threat Hussain Fadhel diving low to head home from creative fulcrum Aziz Mashaan’s corner.
Australia’s poor marking and miscommunication was to blame, with star man Tim Cahill partially culpable. The ex-Evertonian soon made amends, however, by predictably grabbing a vital equaliser.
The Socceroos’ strikeforce soon began to show that famous spirit, as Cahill, Max Kruse and Mathew Leckie caused havoc for the Blue’s backline, whose mistake was to cling so tightly to their sole goal.
It was Swindon Town midfielder Massimo Luongo who carved out the key chance for lethal Cahill, capitalising on a quickly taken throw-in and riding several challenges before threading the ball through the box to expectant frontman’s feet.
A thumping finish from the 35-year-old awakened Australia, with the impressively tenacious Luongo turning from provider to goal hero just before the break.
Flying full back Ivan Franjic contributed a curling cross for Luongo to finally put Postecoglou’s men ahead and the hosts never looked back.
Although Franjic deserves credit for his assist and constant bombardment of crosses, his performance was symptomatic of Australia’s often lackadaisical defence.
The likes of Trent Sainsbury and Matthew Spiranovic were comfortable on the ball going forward, but gifted too many chances to the opposition, as Kuwait finally sparked into life late in the second half.
New coach Nabil Maaloul only allowed the Blue to showcase their skill after Socceroos skipper Mile Jedinak had stepped up to show off his spot kick prowess, coolly converting after Kruse was downed carelessly in the penalty area.
With the game escaping their grasp, Kuwait finally brought on top attacking stars Yousef Nasser, who almost made an immediate impact, and Bader Al-Mutawa. Unfortunately these substitutions came at the expense of exciting Aziz who, despite thanklessly toiling up top alone, had shown real moments of promise.
The new additions did appear to inspire Kuwait but it was too little too late, as superb stopper Mathew Ryan and an obstinate cross bar denied the Blue’s final flurry of boldness.
A crafty combination of Leckie and sprightly James Troisi sealed the scoreline after the former’s fantastic run into the box.
Leckie was denied but 26-year-old Troisi pounced to ensure Australia could boast of a swashbuckling victory.
There is no doubt that the Socceroos will be punished by tougher challengers Oman and South Korea, however, if they continue to start slowly and commit such avoidable defensive lapses.
As for Kuwait, their nervy approach and a spot of bad luck saw them pay dearly. Though overcautious Maaloul will have been pleased with defensive midfield shield Elabrahim’s energetic performance and the threat of his attacking force, when they were finally let off the leash.
If the Blue are to stand a chance of downing the Taegeuk Warrirors next time out, they must go for the jugular. After an opening day defeat they have little left to loose.