Australia defeated Kuwait 3-0 on a steamy evening in Kuwait City to stay five out of five in Group B.
Now five points clear at the top with three games remaining, the Socceroos are on course to finish first and secure a spot in the third round of qualification when the action will really get tasty.
An early goal from Mat Leckie gave Graham Arnold’s men a great start and Kuwait had a mountain to climb by the midway point of the first half as Jackson Irvine added a second.
The game was done and dusted after 66 minutes when Ajdin Hrustic grabbed the first goal for his country.
Australia carried on where they left off
It was great to see international football in Asia well and truly back on Thursday.
There have been games here and there but this was the first time to have a series of matches taking place all over the continent.
When it all stopped in November 2019, Australia were looking very professional and, despite the pause, it was business as usual against Kuwait. It was another perfect away performance.
There may have been no international action for 19 months, but it only took Australia seconds to get back in the swing of things thanks to Mat Leckie’s very early header.
While there would have been no fear of the opposition in the visiting camp, the heat and conditions meant taking an early lead played right into Australia’s hands. It removed, or reduced, the need to make the running and allowed Graham Arnold’s men to set the tempo.
A great first start for Ajdin Hrustic
In a week when parts of the European football family dismissed the achievements of Australia’s best coach, it was good to see a player who has grown in confidence since getting minutes in the big leagues come in and impress.
Eintracht Frankfurt's Hrustic has come on leaps and bounds. After three previous appearances, all off the bench, he made his first start, looked comfortable throughout the game and pulled the strings. A fine performance was crowned with a perfect free-kick midway through the second half that sealed the win.
Arsenal inactivity didn’t show for Ryan
It has been a quiet few months for Mat Ryan, as he left Brighton for Arsenal where he hasn’t had that many minutes. But anyone watching the goalkeeper against Kuwait would never have known.
It was also quite a quiet night. He didn’t have a massive amount to do, but was alert in and out of his area to snuff out any danger, make some useful interceptions and did what he had to do when asked.
If there were any worries in the mind of Graham Arnold as to how sharp and focused his number one is, they have surely been banished.
Full-backs made the running
The temperatures dropped to 38 degrees upon kick off but that did not stop Aziz Behich and fellow full-back Fran Karacic getting forward to useful effect. The former is an experienced campaigner at international level and was up and down that left flank.
Watching the pair, there was no inclination that Karacic had not made a similar number of international matches as his colleague. Sure, there will be opposition coming that will provide more of an attacking threat, but the debutant was composed and confident on the ball and looked like he had been playing in the famous gold shirt for years.
It should be a simple run-in from now
While the coach will never admit it, Australia are as good as in the third round.
With a five point advantage and three games left to play, the maths are simple: win two and you are through. The next two games are against Taiwan and Nepal. It would be the biggest shock of the entire year if the Socceroos do not get the required six points against these two minnows of Asian football.
Assuming all goes to plan, the final game with Jordan, which could be tricky, will be a dead rubber for Australia, allowing Arnold to take a look at a few more players. It is a great position to be in, though the hard work will really start in September.