Australia made a winning start to their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-1 victory over a spirited Kyrgyzstan in Group B on Tuesday.
The Asian champions were far from their best in their opening game of the group and were thankful to Mile Jedinak and Tommy Oar after securing the three points.
Captain Jedinak opened the scoring with his ninth international goal after 62 seconds in Bishkek – the midfielder’s free-kick deceiving Valery Kashuba with the help of a difficult bounce.
Any hopes Australia had of securing a comfortable victory were quickly extinguished, though, as Kyrgyzstan dominated the rest of the first half, albeit lacking enough quality in the final third.
Mirlan Murzaev was the hosts’ main threat with his pace and neat footwork, and he saw Kyrgyzstan’s first effort well blocked by the resolute Australian defence.
Eventually Australia’s quality came through as Oar sealed the points and, although Azamat Baimatov halved the deficit in stoppage time, Ange Postecoglou’s side hung on to avoid a potential upset.
Despite being a long way from home, Australia made a superb start as Jedinak opened the scoring in the second minute after Mathew Leckie had been fouled.
The Crystal Palace midfielder fired his free-kick through the wall and beyond Kashuba, the Kyrgyzstan keeper caught out as the ball bounced just in front of him.
Rather than going into their shell, the hosts came surging forward as Australia struggled to get their passing game going on an uneven pitch, with Farkhat Musabekov and Vitalij Lux both going close without stretching Mat Ryan.
The home pressure continued to build with Edgar Bernhardt posing the main threat on the left – his interception midway through the half led to a great chance for Murzaev but the eventual shot rippled the side netting.
Having survived those threats Australia went agonisingly close to taking a two-goal lead just after the half-hour mark, as James Troisi saw his effort from the edge of the penalty area deflected wide.
Kyrgyzstan’s impressive first-half display showed no signs of abating after the break, and only a Matthew Spiranovic block kept Australia ahead, the defender clearing Murzaev’s back-heel.
As the hosts floundered in front of goal they were made to pay as Oar secured the win – Mark Milligan finding the substitute, who cooly slotted under Kashuba.
Baimatov’s front-post flick gave Australia a late scare with a goal in the dying embers of the match, but the visitors held on to ensure a solid start as they look to qualify for a fourth World Cup finals in a row.
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