Australia sit atop their 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying group with a perfect record following an impressive 3-1 victory in Dammam against Saudi Arabia.
Josh Kennedy was the hero for the Socceroos bagging two goals while also winning a penalty, converted by Luke Wilkshire.
Kennedy, currently the J.League’s top goalscorer, now has three goals in Australia’s two Brazil 2014 qualifying matches, while providing assists in the team’s other two goals scored against Saudi Arabia, and in the 2-1 win over Thailand last Friday. "You can’t ask for any more from a centre forward,” said Australia coach Holger Osieck in reference to Kennedy.
It was much-improved showing from Australia who struggled to overcome the Thais on home soil in Brisbane before prevailing with an Alex Brosque winner four minutes from full time.
"I think we worked very well, we had our defensive shape and we played well. All in all we were good, particularly in the second half which we dominated,” said Osieck. “Unfortunately we conceded the penalty, which was unnecessary, but we got our composure back and it was good."
Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who described the mood after the Thailand match as “feeling like a loss”, expressed delight in the team’s performance in Dammam.
"It was a fantastic result and a fantastic performance,” he said. “If you had asked us how we wanted to play and the result, other than conceding a goal, we got what we wanted.
"I think today we played very, very cleverly, and tactically we were very good. The big difference was the discipline and the shape. We have talked a lot about it since the Thailand game."
A muted first half sprung to life late on with Kennedy producing a perfect header to open the scoring from Wilkshire’s cross. The towering striker then doubled the advantage 11 minutes after the break with Brett Holman cleverly setting up the goal.
Saudi Arabia, playing just their second match under new coach Frank Rijkaard, were unconvincing for large periods of the match although they briefly rallied with Nassir Al Shamrani pulling a goal back from the penalty spot midway through the second half.
Schwarzer’s goal was rarely threatened with Naif Hazazi’s impressive header, which rattled the crossbar in the latter stages, being an exception to the rule.
Both coaches sprung a surprise prior to kick-off with Saudi icon Yasser Al-Qahtani left on the bench, as was Socceroos’ talisman Tim Cahill.
The other Group D contest saw Thailand secure an impressive 3-0 victory against Oman in Bangkok. Sompong Soleb fired the home side ahead in the 35th minute and Teerasil Dangda, who scored against Australia last Friday, made it 2-0 six minutes later. Rashid al Farsi's late own goal compounded Oman's misery.
Australia have six points with Thailand on three, while both Saudi Arabia and Oman have just a point apiece. The next round of matches takes place on 11 October with Australia hosting Oman, and Saudi Arabia visiting Thailand.