Socceroos relaunch their World Cup qualifying campaign in hot style.
4.55am on a cold winter's morning in western Sydney. It's 7C outside and my iPhone's alarm is going off. Something about football? "Turn that off, I'm trying to sleep," my wife murmurs. As the fog clears from my mind, I remember "um, the Socceroos, World Cup, Kuwait um". Yep, there's a game to watch.
I slide out of bed, looking for a dressing gown, slippers, track pants and stagger into the lounge, toss a blanket over my knees and turn on the TV. In an instant I'm in Kuwait and the Oz anthem is being sung. The commentators explain its 38C on the pitch and I'm thinking how bloody cold I am. First world problems, eh?
Yep, the Socceroos are restarting a COVID-interrupted World Cup qualifying campaign. This game against Kuwait, in a roasting Kuwait City, should have been played in Perth, but nothing is normal now. We go into the game as hot (pardon the pun) favourites, but nothing is certain especially after an 18-month break from international football.
And, within a minute the Socceroos take the lead. The crowd goes wild ... except the only spectators in sight are the Kuwaiti defenders. Roos skipper Mat Leckie heads home from a Martin Boyle cross. The comfort levels in my chilly house rise considerably.
From then on it's a dominant display by the Roos with midfielders Ajdrin Hrustic and Jackson Irvine dominating the game. And, it's these two that play major roles in the second goal. Hrustic, in his fourth match for the Socceroos, wins a penalty on the edge of the box (pretty soft but no VAR in operation to check). Boyle has the penalty saved and Irvine saves his Hibs teammate's blushes and cleans up and scores.
At half time, with a 2-0 lead it gets even more comfortable in my lounge room, when my wife, awake now and getting ready for her work, brings in a hot cup of team ... aaahhh, it's the little things.
Back to the footy ... and Kuwait start the second half a little better and threaten a revival, which is snuffed out each time by rock-solid defence, including goalie Matt Ryan.
Just a side note: Ryan freaks me out with his positioning while the Socceroos are in possession. He is often well out of the penalty box. But, his skill on the football, emphasised at one point when he pulls the ball down with his chest 5m out of the box, effectively give the Roos an extra "field" player at times.
Our third and final goal of the match, which finishes 3-0, is a brilliantly placed free kick from German-based Hrustic that slams into the post before hitting the net, leaving the Kuwaiti goalie no chance.
It's worth recording, Socceroos debuts were given to Croatian-born Fran Karacic, who started at right back, and midfielders Kenny Dougall and Riley McGree who came off the bench.
Karacic looks the goods and could well challenge Sydney FC's Rhyan Grant for a permanent role at right back as the World Cup campaign enters its critical stages. His long throws gave the team an extra attacking outlet against Kuwait.
So the Socceroos have won five out of five in this stage of the qualifying competition, but it is important for them to keep the foot down on the pedal. Their next match is against Chinese Taipei on the same, already shoddy, pitch that they played on today. Expectations are high, but we need to keep all the players' heads out of the clouds for now.