Thursday, March 4, 2010

Indonesia puts up a good fight

Australia qualified for the 2011 Asian Cup finals with a 1-0 win over a plucky Indonesia in Brisbane, Wednesday.

The World Cup-bound Socceroos controlled possession for long periods of the lopsided match, but had only defender Mark Milligan’s 42nd-minute goal to show for all their dominance.

Asia’s top-ranked nation fielded a lineup made up largely of players from the domestic A-League, and needed only a draw against the 136th-ranked Indonesians to go through to next January’s showpiece in Qatar.

“I can only be happy with the result, but of course we would have been happier if we had scored more goals,” coach Pim Verbeek said.

“I think we tried everything to score more goals. Defensively we played concentrated and didn’t give anything away, but attacking-wise, we know it’s difficult to play against a team that’s defending with nine players in their own half.”

Australia has now lost only once to Indonesia in 15 encounters and has won all five home games. Indonesia’s only win (1-0) over Australia came in a World Cup qualifier in Surabaya in 1981.

The Australians, under Dutch coach Verbeek, have now qualified for both June’s World Cup in South Africa and the Asian Cup, where they will be looking to do better than their disappointing quarterfinal exit to Japan on penalties in 2007.

“With all respect to Indonesia, this is not the standard of the World Cup. We have to play better, but we also have better players,” Verbeek said.

With midfielder Jason Culina leading his country for the first time and always on the ball, the Socceroos had virtually all of the play but lacked the finishing touch against the already-eliminated Indonesia.

Australia dominated the opening half, controlling possession and probing for openings, but engineered few definite scoring chances until Milligan’s opener three minutes before halftime.

Luke Wilkshire’s free kick hit Milligan’s shoulder and clanged off the bar before the Japan-based defender swivelled and rifled the rebound past goalkeeper Markus Haris Maulana for his first international goal.

The Australians almost doubled their advantage in added-on time when defender Simon Colosimo’s bullet-header off a corner was tipped over the bar by a fully extended Markus.

The Indonesians’ best chances in the opening half came through Budi Sudarsono, but Eugene Galekovic had a quiet time in the Australian goal.

Josh Kennedy, another Australian player based in Japan, had several heading opportunities off crosses from promising 18-year-old debutant Tommy Oar and Dinamo Moscow utility Wilkshire, but was unable to convert any of the chances.

In other action, Japan eased some of the pressure on coach Takeshi Okada with a 2-0 home win over Bahrain in their Asian Cup qualifier.

Both teams had already booked their places at next year’s tournament, but victory meant Japan finished top of Group A and lifted the gloom after a poor run of results.

Striker Shinji Okazaki headed home in the 36th minute, before midfielder Keisuke Honda nodded in a second in injury-time. Japan topped the group with 15 points.

In other Group A match, Hong Kong was held to a 0-0 draw by visiting Yemen. The result gave the host its first point in the Asian Cup qualifiers.

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