Bahrain 1 - Australia 3

A magnificent second half performance by the Qantas Socceroos has earned them a 3-1 win over Bahrain and dream start to their qualifying campaign for the 2007 Asian Cup.

One-nil down at half ­time, a tactical change by Graham Arnold and Johan Neeskens proved to the catalyst for the turnaround, with Archie Thompson, Josip Skoko (pictured right) and Ahmed Elrich scoring the goals to earn a valuable three points.

Arnold was a very satisfied man after the game and paid a huge compliment to the group of players for their performance.

"It's very satisfying, coming away to Bahrain and getting the win," said Arnold. "They (Bahrain) were up for it tonight and were very physical but (Josip) Skoko really controlled the game in the second half and overall I'm very happy."

After a disjointed first half, which saw Australia continually lose possession in midfield and put little pressure on the Bahrain defence, the change seemed to lift the players and find the more traditional 4-4-2 system to their liking.

After almost going 2-0 down straight after the break when first half goal scorer Hussein Ali struck the post, it was Thompson who got Australia back on level terms in the 54th minute.

Thompson, who only was called into the squad on Saturday after it became apparent he would not be required for PSV in the Champions League, met a beautifully weighted free kick by Skoko and headed powerfully home inside the near post.

By this stage Australia was dominating the midfield with Skoko now able to get his foot on the ball and use it effectively and bring the wide players into action, while Elrich and Thompson were able to start running at players and create some confusion in the Bahrain defence.

The killer goal came in the 79th minute and finished beautifully by Skoko from just outside the edge of the area. Following a mazy run by Thompson the ball fell nicely for Skoko who curled his first time shot into the top corner. It was no more than the skipper for the night deserved, after his dominant second half performance.

From there Australia could have scored another two or three goals, with debutant Scott McDonald missing two good opportunities within the space of a minute.

The knockout punch came with just minutes remaining, when Elrich was felled by Abdullah Marzooq with an elbow as he went for a rebound in the penalty box. The Malaysian referee had no hesitation in awarding the big Bahraini defender a straight red card and Australia a penalty kick.

Elrich scored with his first penalty kick, but was ordered to retake it for encroachment, but he kept his nerve and stroked home his second attempt to out Australia up 3-1.

Bahrain almost pulled a goal back in injury time when defender Adnan hit the crossbar with a header, but there was no denying Australia its first win, competing as an official member of the AFC.

However it didn't appear it would go that way after an insipid first half performance, which Arnold put down to nerves.

"The first half, I think the players were very nervous and it became scrappy," said Arnold. "We got them in at half time and told them to calm down and be patient and that things would turn around."

"We changed it around a little at half time and it obviously paid off."

The first half was a real contrast to the second half with Australia playing too many long balls in the first half which played into the hands (or heads) of the tall Bahraini defenders.

But in saying that, apart from the goal scored in the 35th minute, most shots from Bahrain were from long range.

Bahrain's goal came when a neat one-two saw captain Salman Isa get in behind Jade North on the left and his cross found Ali at the near post who tucked his shot across Ante Covic and inside the far post.

Isa could have a second goal for Bahrain with the last kick of the first half when he was allowed space on the edge of the box, but he shot straight at Covic, who diverted it away from goal.

Australia did not have one meaningful shot at goal in the first half, but Holman's introduction for his first game, gave the team more balance and it settled the team down.

When asked for a standout performer, Arnold praised Central Coast Mariners defender Michael Beauchamp, saying "Michael Beauchamp was outstanding tonight and has put himself right into calculations (for World Cup selection)".

Archie Thompson was also very pleased to get back with the national team and add another goal to his ever-increasing tally.

"I'm delighted with the win. At 1-0 down we knew it would be difficult, but we came back in the second half and thoroughly deserved the win.

"Everyone was nervous in the first half, because not only was it our first game in the Asian Cup, but World Cup places were up for grabs. Our second half performance though, proved we are a good side and that we have the players that can compete at this level."

written by Football Australia