Tim Cahill scored a brilliant bicycle-kick and a trademark header as Australia downed brave China 2-0 to reach the Asian Cup semi-finals on Thursday.
Cahill took his record tally of goals for Australia to 39, and few have been as important as his second-half strikes to put the hosts into the last four.
Shortly after half-time, Cahill pulled out a bicycle-kick from a sharp angle which beat Chinese ‘keeper Wang Dalei, and he then made it two with a familiar leap and header.
The Socceroos deserved the win against a willing but outgunned Chinese side, who scrambled well in the first half but folded under the weight of possession enjoyed by the Australians.
“It was a tough game, we knew China would be difficult,” said coach Ange Postecoglou said. “They made it very hard in the fist half. They worked very hard defensively.
“But the boys stuck to the game plan and I was always confident that as the game went on we would get on top of the opposition.
“Once Timmy produced his magic we never looked back and fully deserved victory.”
Postecoglou recalled skipper Mile Jedinak to the starting line-up after injury and gave veteran midfielder Mark Bresciano his first start of the tournament.
He also restored Australia’s forward line of Cahill and Robbie Kruse following a string of missed chances against South Korea in their final pool game.
“We’ve managed the load amongst the players, we’ve changed players and allowed them the rest they needed. I think that was probably the decisive factor in the end,” he said.
“We were running right to the end and we could have scored two or three more goals — China were struggling to keep up with us.”
– ‘No regrets’ –
China initially sat back in defence and looked to counter-attack. They looked the more dangerous early on, Wu Lei’s pace causing the Australian defence plenty of problems.
The Chinese had the best chance of the opening 25 minutes when Ji Xiang’s backheel went just wide, but it was all Australia from that point on.
Cahill and Jedinak were both on target with headers, while Mathew Leckie and Trent Sainsbury should have done better with good chances.
The Socceroos started the second half just as dominantly and they were finally rewarded in the 49th minute when Cahill unleashed his box of tricks.
China cleared the ball from a corner but only as far as Ivan Franjic, who put a looping header back into the box.
An acrobatic Cahill met the cross with an overhead bicycle kick angled past Wang.
Cahill then scored his second in the 65th minute when his pinpoint header from Jason Davidson’s cross gave Wang no chance.
The Chinese refused to concede and forced two diving saves from Australian ‘keeper Mathew Ryan, but they paid for a lack of firepower up front and were lucky not to concede more.
“Australia played very well and are a very strong team,” China coach Alain Perrin said. “Our players did their best, I have no regrets regarding the performance of our players.”
Australia will now play either Japan or the United Arab Emirates in the semi-finals.