The Socceroos have cruised to a 3-0 victory over Kuwait in stifling conditions at an empty Jaber Al Ahmad International Stadium in Kuwait City.
First-half goals to Mathew Leckie and Jackson Irvine — who slammed home after Hibernian teammate Martin Boyle missed from the spot — sent the Socceroos on their way.
Ajdin Hrustic scored Australia’s third with a wicked, curling free kick in the only real highlight of a sluggish second half, as Australia consolidated their position in the Middle East heat.
The win takes the Socceroos five points clear of Kuwait at the top of their World Cup Qualifying Group B after a fifth win in five games.
Although Australia would be expected to comfortably beat a team 107 rungs beneath them in the world rankings, Graham Arnold would have been pleased with his side’s fluidity going forward.
In baking-hot conditions, with temperatures cooling to 38 degrees at kick off from a high of 45 earlier in the day, the Socceroos knew they had to start quickly, and did.
Despite not playing an international for 567 days — the longest stretch without a match for Australia since the mid-70s — Arnold’s side were dominant from the off.
Martin Boyle in particular was impressive, finding space in the centre and bursting forward down the left throughout a first half in which the Socceroos dominated territory to the tune of 72 per cent, managing 15 shots to three.
Both fullbacks also pressed forward at every opportunity, with debutant Fran Karačić and Aziz Behich both posing questions of an increasingly disorganised Kuwait defence.
Skipper Leckie, who scored twice last time these two sides met, gave the Socceroos a crucial early goal inside the opening minute, rising highest in the penalty area after Kuwait failed to clear a corner.
The Socceroos’ second came after Hrustic earned a highly debatable penalty after whizzing into the penalty area and theatrically falling to the ground, much to the chagrin of the Kuwaiti defenders, one of whom, Bandar Al Salama, was booked for his enthusiastic protests.
Boyle’s initial spot kick was saved, but his Hibernian teammate Jackson Irvine reacted fastest to slam the loose ball past stricken keeper Abdulghafoor, whose kicking of the post in frustration appeared entirely justified based on the replay.
Boyle should have scored in open play shortly after, having being beautifully played in by Irvine, but poked his shot wide of the goal — one of 11 of Australia’s 15 shots that were either blocked or were off target in that first half.
Kuwait, who posed little threat aside from long-range efforts in the first half, were slightly better after the break, but never mounted a serious challenge on the Australian defence, forcing Mat Ryan into making just one save from their six shots.
As play understandably slowed in the oppressive heat, clear-cut chances also dried up, despite Arnold handing debuts to Blackpool’s two-goal playoff hero Kenny Dougall and Riley McGree.
However, Hrustic capped a superb individual performance by lighting up the second half with a peach of a free kick from 25-yards out to further extend the Socceroos’ lead.
The Socceroos do not have long to recover from their endeavours on what was an increasingly bobbly surface at the cavernous Jaber Al Ahmad International Stadium.
Australia will take on Chinese Taipei on Tuesday morning (5:00am AEST), followed by Nepal on Saturday, June 12 and then Jordan on Wednesday, June 16.