Australia kick off qualifiers with a win
Australian captain Mathew Leckie was on target with two goals and Aaron Mooy added a third with a long-range effort to help Australia beat Kuwait in their opening World Cup qualifying game.
The Australians, who have only been in action once since January, were the favourites with sports betting companies going into the game, and they justified that rating from the start with an energetic attacking display in front of a hostile crowd at the Al Kuwait Sports Club Stadium.
It took the visitors only seven minutes to take the lead, with Leckie, temporarily filling in as captain following an injury to Mark Milligan, to the fore.
A long-range effort from Jackson Irvine rebounded inside a crowded penalty area, but after a deflection off Adam Taggart, Leckie was on hand to tap the ball into the net past goalkeeper Sulaiman Abdulghafoor, to the delight of the Australians.
Australia doubled their lead on 24 minutes when a corner from Mooy was headed towards goal by Irvine and Leckie turned sharply to add a second and increase Australia’s lead.
The game was effectively sealed seven minutes before half-time when a good cross by Rhyan Grant was only parried by Abdulghafoor and the ball fell to Mooy, who fired it into the top corner.
With a comfortable 3-0 lead, Australia spent much of the second half sitting deep while launching the occasional counter-attack, but they were rarely threatened.
On 53 minutes, Kuwait captain Hussain Al-Musawi came close with a shot that hit the side netting.
The home side came closer on 59 minutes – goalkeeper Mathew Ryan was called upon to make a good save to tip a shot by Al-Musawi over the bar, while Youcer Nasser might have done better with a shot that was deflected past his post by Ryan.
However, Australia also had chances of their own, through substitute Awer Mabil, who hit the side netting four minutes after coming on, following good work from Mooy, and the winger had another opportunity in the final minute of normal time when he was put through one-on-one with the goalkeeper but was denied by a fine reflex save from Abdulghafoor.
The Socceroos are now second in Group B but level on points with Kuwait and with a game in hand, and they are widely tipped to win a section that also includes Jordan, Nepal and Chinese Taipei.
Words: Jonah Farrell