Geelong Advertiser, Thursday, 7 February 2008, p. 46.
They say the longest journey begins with a single step, and last night at a packed Telstra Dome the Socceroos took the first step on the long road to the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. A three-nil win over lowly Qatar may not be seen as an unexpected result, but it was critically important to get the campaign off to a good start. Before the game I spoke to one of the Qatari journalists covering the match, Karim Jaffar, a photographer who also writes for an Arab daily. He assured me that Qatar would not put a defensive wall of ten men behind the ball, but that they would try to take the game to Australia, despite the absence of three key players, including suspended striker Sebastian Quintana. But that plan never had a chance because the Socceroos grabbed a classic route one goal after only ten minutes through beanpole striker, Josh Kennedy.
A packed Telstra Dome yelled its collective head off, mixing not a little relief with the exultation. For new coach Pim Verbeek it must also have lifted the burden of gambling on a short preparation and no chance to get his European players together before the opening match. So when Tim Cahill headed a second following a corner kick, Verbeek got the next big cheer when he controlled a wayward ball on the touchline before flicking it to David Carney to take a throw-in. It was turning into that kind of night.
Those with memories of the qualifying game against Iran in 1997 were still a little toey about a two-nil scoreline. On that occasion Australia dominated the match until serial pest Peter Hoare made an entry and held up the game for ten minutes. The Socceroos lost momentum and two goals going out of the World Cup undefeated but on away goals. This time Australia got a third goal when Scott McDonald found Mark Bresciano for a close range finish.
At half-time the Qatari coach Jorge Fossatti, who was in charge when Australia overcame Uruguay in a penalty shoot out en route to Germany in 2006, put on two substitutes Messad Alim and Wissam Risk who livened things up for the visitor. Alim twice got through but could not find the net, showing that the Qatari failing in front of goal remains its biggest weakness. Australia weathered that period and strolled through the second half, creating the odd chances but keeping well within itself. An injury to Kennedy was the only sour note, and the Karlsrühe striker will hope that he can recover quickly to regain his place in his new team.
Verbeek left to a great reception, but the next games will be a tougher test for the Socceroos. The first step has been taken.