Last night we saw one of the world’s best strikers in action as “Super Tim” delivered yet again when his nation most needed. Tim Cahill produced the best goal of the tournament so far, and then followed up with the best headed goal of the 2015 Asian Cup.
Australia had to bounce back after a shock defeat in the last group game, and they faced a Chinese side full of confidence and optimism after they had won all three of their group matches. The “red army” of fans provided an impressive backdrop at Brisbane Stadium, and the atmosphere, noise and colour generated across the over 46,000 crowd certainly didn’t seem to reflect it being an ‘away’ game for China.
The large Chinese-Australian community had responded along with travelling supporters from the ‘homeland’. To provide further encouragement a Chinese billionaire had bought up 5,000 tickets for distribution to their fans for free. It must be asked; what price on helping to achieve success?
The much maligned pitch looked like it had improved somewhat since the previous matches. However an ominous weather forecast had pointed to the high probability of rain and even storms during the evening. Thankfully for players and fans alike this did not eventuate. Prior to the match, most home fans were cautiously optimistic about the Socceroos’ chances, although virtually no one could have possibly imagined just how victory would be achieved.
China opened strongly and for the first 20 minutes their counter attacks were threatening many times as the hosts initially struggled to get into a rhythm. Desperate defence was required on several occasions, including after an atypical blunder from a somewhat ‘rusty’ looking Mile Jedinak who returned from injury to the captain’s role.
In the second part of first half, Australia took control and several clear cut chances were created. In the 25th minute a Mark Bresciano free kick to far post was headed down by Jedinak forcing an unconvincing save for a corner. On 28 minutes Matthew Leckie had his powerful left foot shot punched over the bar by goal keeper Wang Delei. Seven minutes later, another Bresciano free kick found Trent Sainsbury in space only for him to head over the bar.
At half-time statistics showed 77 per cent of the possession had been with the Socceroos, yet it is more important what is done with the ball to take full advantage of such domination.
Only four minutes after the break, came the pure football magic. Ivan Franjic headed into space on the near post for Cahill six metres out to balance and with back turned to goal execute an acrobatic bicycle kick to send the ball past the keeper into the net at the far post. The stadium erupted!
China now chasing the game responded in the 58th minute with a long range shot from Zhang Linpeng saved by Mat Ryan. Within a minute there was a lovely build up by Australia that put Bresciano into space only six metres out only for his shot to blaze well over the bar. Momentum was once again with the host nation, and Cahill came close with a lovely turn just inside the area and then well placed shot forcing a finger tips save.
On 65 minutes the game was all but buried when a fine cross from Jason Davidson on left found Cahill close the penalty spot. He rose to meet the ball and directed a precise header into the right hand corner of the net for 2-0.
Five minutes later a long range drive by captain and star midfielder Zheng Zhi was saved well by Ryan, who then made a ‘double save’ off the rebound effort from another opposing player close in. The Socceroos didn’t convert another great opportunity late to grab a third goal, yet they still ran out convincing winners and progression to a semi-final in five days time.
It was a mixture of joy and relief for the jubilant Australian fans as they once again cast aside many doubts about being on track to give the Asian Cup title a huge shake. By contrast, although disappointed, Chinese fans were still very proud of their team’s achievements at this tournament. They now bow out, yet their form in the group phase had exceeded expectations of the vast majority of supporters. This is a solid foundation to build upon for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign beginning in June.
Post game reaction from Socceroos’ players was not surprisingly very upbeat, yet clearly not getting carried away with emotion. The next game is now the focus and goal through first recovery and then fine tuning the approach to be ready for a vastly different style of opponent regardless of whom they meet in Newcastle. There is a slight advantage of having one day extra off before such an encounter.
Central defender Trent Sainsbury felt it was a “good second half; we went out there to try to move the ball a bit faster and wider, and pick our moments. Once we got the goal it really opened up for us which was nice”.
As for the pitch “it was alright in wide areas which I think we utilised in the second half a bit better. Going through the middle was a little bit tough, the ball was bubbling about a little and they (China) were countering us”.
When asked about teammate Tim Cahill “he’s like wine, he just keeps getting better” Trent said.
Goal keeper Mathew (‘Mat’) Ryan believed that “it’s (2-0) a funny score line; a few years back we were 2-0 up in a game here with the Central Coast Mariners in the A-League Grand Final and it quickly turned around. Full credit to everyone in the team, we all put in a fantastic shift tonight from the front with Timmy all the way to the back and the boys who came on also……recovery now and we’ve got to focus to next Tuesday”.
“We were relentless in going forward time and time again, and eventually we did wear them down and get that opening goal, get the second and unlucky not to get a third”.
“I had two saves to make in the second half, but I would have been a little disappointed if I was beaten from such a distance which they shot” Mat said.
One thing is sure, it was a privilege to be at a game where arguably Australia’s greatest ever player showed why he is the best at the craft of reading the game and being in the right place to deliver wonderful goals in so many different ways.
After a flight back to Sydney at lunchtime, attention is turned to the quarter final this evening at Stadium Australia between Japan and UAE. It is a difficult game for the Samurai Blue against a fine team that is on the rise in Asian football. A reward for the winner is an encounter with the increasingly confident Socceroos.
You can follow Pablo via Twitter @PabloFootball
More Pictures from last night