The host nation secured their passage into the knockout stages of the tournament by thrashing Oman 4-0 in Sydney on Tuesday night. Matt McKay, Robbie Kruse, Mark Milligan and Tomi Juric were all on target for the red-hot Socceroos in front of a delighted crowd of 50,276.
Australia’s near-perfect display surpassed even their stylish 4-1 rout of Kuwait a few days earlier, when goals by Tim Cahill, Massimo Luongo, skipper Mile Jedinak and James Troisi got them away to a flying start in Melbourne.
With six points in the bag from two games Australia lead group A on goal difference from South Korea, who have enjoyed more modest 1-0 victories over Oman and Kuwait in their first two games. The leading two are already guaranteed a quarter-final place, but meet in Brisbane on Saturday in a third and final group match which will determine which of them tops the group.
Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos will then face a quarter-final clash against one of the top two teams in group B — currently led by China and Uzbekistan, who are closely followed by Saudi Arabia.
Following such a fine start – in which eight different players have found the net – hopes are rising that Australia can go all the way in their third Asian Cup since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006.
To do so, they may well need to gain revenge on holders and favourites Japan, who have knocked the Aussies out of both the last two tournaments. Japan beat Australia on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the quarter-finals in 2007, and then broke Socceroo hearts with a 1-0 extra-time victory in the final in 2011.