Host nation Australia took away three points with a 4-1 win over Kuwait in the opening match of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
The sold-out crowd at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium were treated to a Socceroos comeback after Ali Hussain Fadhel’s eighth minute goal was avenged by goals to Tim Cahill and Massimo Luongo in the first half and a second half penalty to captain Mile Jedinak.
An early show of dominance, with Australia keeping possession in the attacking end. was cut short by Kuwait’s first corner of the game, with a low cross evading the Socceroos defence and meeting the head of a diving Hussain Fadhel at the edge of the six-yard area.
With Australia’s confidence cut, Kuwait looked to be in better shape and with some confidence restored since their devastating Gulf Cup of Nations exit.
Desperate to bounce back, Swindon Town midfielder Massimo Luongo used his dazzling footwork to work his way past the Kuwaiti defence before cutting back to Tim Cahill. Australia’s all-time goalscoring leader made no mistake and launched the ball into the net for the host nation’s equaliser in the 33rd minute.
Luongo added to his impressive showing 11 minutes later when he met Ivan Franjic’s left-footed cross inside the box to put Australia in front before half time with a header.
A heavy downpour of rain started the second half, while goalscoring defender Ali Hussain Fadhel walked off sheepishly to be substituted in the 58th minute. The time needed for Al-Azraq to adjust was evident, with Tim Cahill finding space to shoot and being denied by the fast reflexes of Hameed Youssef and Mathew Leckie sending a shot flying past the defenders and into the crossbar. The Socceroos’ moment of attacking pressure paid off when Sultan Al-Enezi brought Robbie Kruse down just inside the box. Crystal Palace and Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak stepped up to the rain-soaked spot to convert for Australia’s third.
Chances continued to rain down on both sides, with Fahed Al-Ebrahim sending a half-volley from outside the box and substitute Nathan Burns, leading goalscorer in the current A-League season almost scoring a spectacular header, both rattling their respective crossbars.
The night got better for the hosts in the dying minutes of the match, when James Troisi pounced on Leckie’s rebounded shot. A slight deflection was enough to put the ball past Hameed Yousef and give Australia a fourth and final goal.
The victors now look toward their January 13 encounter with Oman in Sydney’s Stadium Australia, where a win will seemingly be enough to clinch passage to the quarterfinals. Kuwait, on the other hand, will need to recover quickly if they hope to stand a chance against South Korea in Canberra.