By Colm Boohig
Australia can look forward to a place in the last eight of the AFC Asian Cup after a comfortable victory over Oman at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney. Qualification from Group A has been assured with a game to spare courtesy of a terrific performance from Ange Postecoglou’s men on Tuesday night.
In order to maintain squad fitness Australia made three changes to the side that beat Kuwait on Friday night. However, it initially looked like the Socceroos would in particular miss their injured captain Mile Jedinak as Omani wing-back Raed’s thunderous drive from distance forced a great stop by Mat Ryan.
It took the Aussies about 20 minutes to settle and eventually take control of the game. A couple of trademark headers from stand-in skipper Tim Cahill provided the warning to the visitors until the Socceroos eventually broke through in the 27th minute. Trent Sainsbury’s header from a corner was flicked in from close range by Matt McKay.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Oman was given no time to respond when just three minutes later the hosts doubled their advantage. Robbie Kruse and the once again impressive Massimo Luongo played a gorgeous one-two before the former coolly slotted passed Ali Al-Habsi to make it 2-0.
There was just time to add a third before the interval, albeit in rather bizarre circumstances. Jedinak’s on-the-night replacement Mark Milligan thumping volley from six yards found the roof of the net but curiously the referee instead decided to give a penalty for a foul on Cahill. In any case, Milligan stepped up to take the resulting spot-kick and the Melbourne Victory captain virtually secured all three points on the stroke of half-time.
The second-half was predictably played at a much slower tempo, with Postecoglou taking the opportunity to substitute some key players. One of the replacements, Tomi Juric, demonstrated the Socceroos’ strength in depth by adding a fourth goal in the 71st minute. Mathew Leckie’s superb dribble and outside-of-the-right-foot cross from the left was clinically finished by Juric to leave the final score 4-0.
Spirits are high in the Australian camp with eight goals scored in just two games and Postecoglou has been quick to praise his squad’s unity and determination.
“The most pleasing thing is seeing the whole group really embrace what we’re doing and embrace this challenge. There hasn’t been a person who has not been a contributor,” said the coach.
“For us to have any success in this tournament, it has to be a collective effort. We’ve got another big game on Saturday and it’s another big game we want to win and want to improve.”
Earlier on Tuesday South Korea secured their passage to the knockout stages with a narrow 1-0 victory over Kuwait in Canberra. Australia and South Korea play each other on Saturday night in Brisbane with the Socceroos needing only a point from that game to secure top spot in Group A.