Australia shook off a nervous start and an early goal before trampling over Kuwait 4-1 to kick off their home Asian Cup in emphatic style in Melbourne on Friday.
Young midfielder Massimo Luongo shone for the home side, setting up a goal for Socceroos talisman Tim Cahill in the 33rd minute before heading in one of his own two minutes before the break in front of 30,000 spectators at the Rectangular Stadium.
The double strike put Australia 2-1 up at halftime after Kuwait defender Hussain Fadhel had stunned the hosts with a goal in the eighth minute of the Group A encounter. The second half was far more routine for the hosts as captain Mile Jedinak netted a 62nd penalty before James Troisi sealed the match with an injury-time strike that sent home fans into raptures.
The relief was palpable as thrilled Socceroos players embraced at the final whistle, having come into the match with a solitary win from their 11 previous matches under coach Ange Postecoglou. Though they dominated possession and terrorised Kuwait goal-keeper Hameed Youssef for much of the second half, Australia’s shaky defence will leave Postecoglou with much to ponder.
After an opening ceremony featuring hip hop music and indigenous dance, a nervous Australia conceded the first goal with some sloppy set-piece defending. The 30-year-old Fadhel latched onto a neat deflection from team mate Fahed Al Ebrahim after a low corner had whizzed into the heart of the penalty area.
Australia spent much of the half regaining their composure before Cahill, so long Australia’s saviour, cancelled out the early goal in the 33rd minute after a brilliant jinking run by Luongo, who eluded three opponents near the right corner before crossing low into the path of his team mate. Luongo then leaped in front of Cahill to head in a cross from defender Ivan Franjic to give Australia a deserved halftime lead.
The home side pushed relentlessly after the break, with Matthew Leckie cannoning a left-foot shot off the crossbar after Cahill had a low shot parried away by the keeper. The pressure told and forward Robbie Kruse was brought down when charging into the area, allowing captain Jedinak to coolly slot home the spot kick. Australia keeper Mathew Ryan was forced to stretch to get a hand on a searing shot from Fahed El Ebrahim that also hit the crossbar.
Substitute Nathan Burns was next to hammer the woodwork before Leckie set up the stunning finish, cutting the Kuwait defence in the area before Troisi hammered the final goal home.
South Korea and Oman are the other teams in Group A, with the pair meeting in Canberra on Saturday.