Cahill sparks Australia comeback win in Asian Cup opener
New York Red Bulls forward Tim Cahill sparked an Australian fightback after an early deficit as the hosts beat Kuwait 4-1 in the opening match of the Asian Cup on Friday.
A vocal sellout crowd of 25,000 at the Rectangular Stadium, dressed predominantly in Australia’s green and gold colors, was stunned into silence after eight minutes when Kuwait defender Hussain Fadhel opened the scoring by diving to head in a low corner at the near post.
”The players were told in no uncertain terms that (conceding) that kind of goal was unacceptable,” Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said. ”They were pretty disappointed in themselves and we need to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
The equalizer didn’t appear until the 33rd minute when three-time World Cup veteran Cahill deftly met a Massimo Luongo pass just outside the box and drove it into the top of the net.
Cahill’s goal energized the Australians, who pinned Kuwait deep in its half over the ensuing minutes.
By halftime it was 2-1, man-of-the-match Luongo himself rising above the defense to head in a long pass over the outstretched hands of Kuwait goalkeeper Hameed Youssef for his first international goal.
”It was amazing,” Luongo said. ”It felt the world to me, and scoring it on home soil was even better. I couldn’t imagine a better day.”
Kuwait’s stoic defense turned to desperation in the second half when Robbie Kruse was brought down by Salah Sheikh Alenezi in the area, allowing Australia captain Mile Jedinak to slot home the penalty.
”Australia was very strong and took advantage physically and with their speed,” Kuwait coach Nabil Maaloul said. ”There was a big difference between the level of the Australian team and the Kuwait team.”
Australia ruthlessly hunted for a fourth goal. Substitute Nathan Burns came close with two shots on goal until James Troisi delivered in the 90th.
”I would have preferred we didn’t concede the (opening) goal, but from the perspective of seeing the reaction, it was the right kind of reaction,” Postecoglou said. ”They didn’t go into their shells and, if anything, it made them more determined to overcome their opponents.”
With the win, Australia took the early lead in Group A, which also includes South Korea and Oman.
Australia is attempting to win the Asian Cup for the first time since joining the Asian Football Confederation from Oceania in 2006. The Socceroos lost the 2011 final to Japan.
Kuwait is ranked 15th among Asian teams. Although it won the Asian Cup in 1980, Kuwait finished 14th in 2011.
Australia next plays Oman in Sydney on Tuesday, while Kuwait takes on South Korea in Canberra.