Australia began their first World Cup qualifying campaign through Asia with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Qatar at Docklands Stadium in Melbourne yesterday.
The Socceroos, who qualified for the 2006 World Cup through the Oceania group after defeating Uruguay in a penalty shoot-out, had too much firepower for a young Qatar side.
The striker Josh Kennedy and midfielders Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano scored first-half goals for Pim Verbeek's side to give them the ideal start to the 2010 campaign in Group One, which also includes Asian champions Iraq and China. "We played a fantastic first half. We created chances, we scored great goals, we never gave them one chance," Verbeek said. "[We played] exactly what we planned before the game. I'm very proud of what they did."
The Australians, despite having a disjointed preparation with their mostly European-based squad filtering into Melbourne, took little time to settle with Cahill's side-footed shot well saved by the Qatar goalkeeper, Mohammed Sadr, in the sixth minute.
The home side, roared on by a near-capacity crowd of 50,969, exploited the width given to them by a hesitant Qatari defence, with Brett Emerton's 11th-minute cross met by Kennedy, who outjumped two defenders and nodded the ball past Sadr.
Cahill, who had missed an earlier chance, made amends in the 17th minute when he glanced a Luke Wilkshire corner past a hesitant Sadr.
Bresciano completed the scoring in the 33rd minute when he slotted home Scott McDonald's superbly weighted square ball after the Qatari defence had bungled a clearance.
The home side had numerous chances in the second half but failed to add to their score. They also lost concentration several times and were lucky to keep a clean sheet, particularly when the Qatar substitute Mesaad Al Hamad missed an open goal after they had caught Australia on the counter-attack.
The match then fizzled out with Mark Schwarzer barely troubled again in the home goal, while the Australia substitute John Aloisi scuffed his shot while one-on-one against Sadr.
"It was a good win and we knew we were going to get tired later so it was important we scored early to open the game up a little bit," said the hosts' captain, Lucas Neill. "We scored some really good goals. It's a pity we couldn't score again to kill the game off."
In Saitama, Japan beat Thailand 4-1 in freezing conditions to win their opening World Cup qualifier.
Thailand's players, accustomed to tropical heat, were given little chance with snow falling in Saitama, but they made life difficult for Japan in the first half.
The midfielder Yasuhito Endo gave Japan the lead in the 21st minute with a superb curling free-kick from 30 metres. However, Thailand stunned the home side by equalising within a minute when the forward Teerathep Winothai smashed a ferocious shot past Japan's keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi from the edge of the box.
Japan, booed off at halftime by the crowd of 35,000, went back in front 10 minutes after the interval when the striker Yoshito Okubo prodded home from close range after an attempted Thai clearance ricocheted into his path.
Thailand had acclimatised for the wintry Japanese weather with a training camp at Manchester City, but Okubo's freak goal effectively ended the visitors' resistance.
Things got worse for Thailand when Narongchai Vachiraban was sent off before Japan's defender Yuji Nakazawa made the points safe by heading the home side's third. The substitute Seiichiro Maki added a fourth in injury time.