Australia moved to the top of their World Cup qualifying group after a hard-fought 3-0 win over Tajikistan at Dushanbe’s Republican Central Stadium on Tuesday.
It was a frustrating night for Australia, as they dominated proceedings but were unable to break down the resilient hosts, ranked 153 in the world, for nearly an hour.
But the reward for their efforts came in the 57th minute, when the midfielder Mark Milligan scored the opener after a goalmouth scramble, following an Aaron Mooy corner. Tajikistan were unable to clear the ball and Milligan was on the spot at the back post to toe the ball home.
The stand-in skipper, Tim Cahill, made it 2-0 in the 74th minute, expertly tucking home a cutback from Ryan McGowan, at which point many of the raucous, 19,000-strong crowd started filing for the exits.
Cahill grabbed his second in second-half stoppage time, heading in a Tommy Oar cross.
The result makes it three wins from three for Australia and takes them to the top of Group B, ahead of Jordan, who accounted for Bangladesh 4-0 on Tuesday. The Socceroos need to finish top of the group to guarantee safe passage through to the third round of qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Pre-match predictions of another blowout proved optimistic as an out-of-ideas Australia were unable to craft a genuine breakthrough in the first half.
Unlike Bangladesh, who were a rabble as they succumbed 5-0 to the socceroos last week in Perth, the Tajiks were disciplined, organised and a threat on the counter. Eight members of Tajikstan’s starting team play for the local club FC Istiqlol, based at the Republican Central Stadium, and that familiarity was clearly at play.
Australia also struggled to come to terms with the artificial turf, which slowed down the pace of passing as many players found the ball stuck under their feet.
Ange Postecoglou, the Australia manager, made three changes to last week’s team, bringing in McGowan, Cahill and Matt McKay for Tarek Elrich, Tom Rogic and Nathan Burns. The fefender Matthew Spiranovic, who was a selection doubt on account of illness, retained his place at centre-back. However, Rogic and Burns played out most of the second half, while the newly-recruited Ipswich Town winger Oar also came off the bench for some much-needed competitive minutes, having not played a club game since April.
© 2015 The Guardian | This article first appeared in The Guardian on 9th of September 2015.