Striker Alex Brosque scored in the 86th minute to give Australia a 2-1 win over Thailand yesterday and help avoid an embarrassing start for the Socceroos in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Brosque scored the winner with a left-footed tap-in, completing the hosts' comeback from a first-half deficit.
Striker Teerasil Dengda had given Thailand a shock 1-0 lead in the 15th minute on a perfectly executed 70-metre counter-attack despite Australia dominating possession. Josh Kennedy equalised for Australia in the 58th.
Entering at the third round of Asian qualifying because they are among the five teams from the region who qualified for the previous World Cup, Australia wore out the pitch in front of the 120th-ranked Thai team's goal for much of the match before a crowd of 24,500 at Suncorp Stadium.
With 20 minutes left, Australia had dominated possession by a 78-22 per cent margin in the second half.
It was in the first half, however, that Thailand took the lead when Neil Kilkenny, a surprising selection in the midfield ahead of Mile Jedinak, turned the ball over with a poor pass and the Socceroos were exposed for a lack of urgency when Jakkraphan Kaewprom produced a strong cross on the run for Theerasil to volley home.
Australia had plenty of chances to equalise but their finishing wasn't up to the task in the opening 45 minutes. Everton's Tim Cahill went closest in the last minute before half-time after attacking partner Kennedy brought the ball down to him in the box, but goalkeeper Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool saved it with a lunge to the right.
The Australia captain, Lucas Neill, described the performance as disappointing. "They made it hard for us, but you can't find yourself down against any team," said Neill, who recently signed with the United Arab Emirates champions Al Jazira. "We know how hard this is going to be."
Australia's goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer spoke harshly to his team-mates after the first half. "It feels like a loss, but the positive is we got the three points," he said. "There's no excuses. We were all over the place and we didn't have any real shape."
The Australia coach, Holger Osieck, said he had not been surprised by the closesness of the match. "Everybody expects easy wins against Thailand, but that's not the case," said the German-born Osieck. "Thailand defended well and our boys didn't play the football they should have, particularly in the first half. We made that mistake at midfield, and got caught on the counter. But eventually we got the opportunities and gained confidence."
A report on the Football Federation Australia website indicated the home side may have been overconfident going into the game.
In a preview of the match, it said: "Australia's journey to a third consecutive Fifa World Cup begins ... with what looks a relatively straightforward assignment against Thailand."
However, citing Thailand's rejuvenation under their new, German-born coach Winfried Schaeffer, it added: "No match in Asia is straightforward and no opposition can be underestimated."
Schaeffer agreed on the straightforward part, saying his team, missing their regular captain, goalkeeper and three defenders because of injuries, had played well, giving him hope for better things in Thailand's next match against Oman.
"We lost the match in the last five minutes because of a couple of errors," Schaeffer said. "But I am happy with how we played. Australia is one of the strongest teams in the region, and we did well."
Australia play their next match on Tuesday against Saudi Arabia in Dammam.