Hosts Australia displayed impressive firepower to beat Kuwait 4-1 in their Asian Cup opener on Friday after talisman Tim Cahill kick-started them following an early scare.
Massimo Luongo, Mile Jedinak and James Troisi were also on target for the Socceroos, who could have scored six or seven and were serenaded with a chorus of “Oles” by a sell-out crowd of 30,000 in Melbourne.
Kuwait had stunned Australia with a goal from Hussain Fadhel after just eight minutes, the big defender stooping to head in a corner and silence the home fans.
But Cahill relieved the tension on a wet and chilly evening by slamming home the equaliser in the 33rd minute after smart work down the right from Luongo. The 35-year-old has now scored at each of the last three Asian Cups.
Luongo put Australia in front moments before half-time with a superb header to give the home side a huge boost going into the break.
Skipper Jedinak stroked home a penalty in the 62nd minute, giving the Socceroos a two-goal cushion as they continued to press, playing with a swagger that was sorely missing as they managed just a single win in 11 matches last year.
Troisi poked home a fourth in stoppage time to cap a dominant performance.
“Obviously we got off to a disappointing start,” Australia coach Ange Postecoglou told reporters. “Sometimes things don’t go to plan but it’s how you react.
“It was the right kind of reaction and eventually we overwhelmed them. The positives outweigh the negatives tonight and this will give us confidence for the next games.”
– Cahill still ‘dangerous’ –
Australia, runners-up to Japan four years ago, are also drawn alongside Oman and 2002 World Cup semi-finalists South Korea in Group A as they bid to capture a first Asian Cup with a revamped side after their golden generation failed to win a major title.
Cahill almost grabbed a second, forcing a superb save from Hameed Youssef on the hour-mark, before Mathew Leckie smashed a left-foot shot against the underside of the bar as the floodgates threatened to open.
“Tim is still a fantastic player,” Postecoglou gushed after Cahill, who has scored nine of Australia’s last 16 goals, once again demonstrated his importance to the green the gold.
“We saw at the World Cup he’s still very dangerous against the world’s best defences.
“There wouldn’t be a defender in the world today who would like to be one-on-one with Tim Cahill.”
Substitute Nathan Burns also rattled the framework with a diving header as the Socceroos turned on the style against the 1980 champions Kuwait, who had beaten them in five of their previous 10 meetings.
Kuwait coach Nabil Maaloul, who has been in the job just three weeks, was philosophical in defeat.
“Let’s face facts: there’s a big difference between the level of the Australian team and Kuwait,” he said.
“When we scored the early goal I was the only person on my bench not expressing my joy because I knew Australia had the quality to score at any time — and they proved it. Their third goal, the penalty, killed us.” – Agence France-Presse