Bahrain 1 - Australia 3

Bahrain kicked off their 2007 Asian Cup qualifying campaign in disastrous fashion losing 3-1 to Australia in a key Group 'D' match last night at the National Stadium in Riffa. Though it was the hosts who took a first-half lead through striker Hussain Ali, it was the Australians who had the last laugh.

The Socceroos came back in the second-half and hit three goals through Archie Thompson, captain Josip Skoko and Ahmed Elrich (penalty) to move into pole position for a spot in the 2007 Asian Cup to be held in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Kuwait and Lebanon, who drew 1-1 in another match, are the other two teams in this group of death.

Bahrain will travel to Kuwait City for their next match on Wednesday

Last night's match was billed as a showdown between a big Continental side and a tiny Gulf country.

But soon it turned into a scrappy affair as players from both sides indulged in rough and rowdy antics.

Australia, however, began to gain supremacy through some good inspiration work by captain Skoko and PSV Eindhoven striker Thompson, who was a late addition into the side following the Dutch club's decision to free him from their Champions League pre-quarter-final clash against Lyon.

But the move seemed to have back fired for the Dutch side as they lost 1-0 to Lyon on Tuesday night.

But for Australia Thompson's shooting skills came in handy as the tall striker equalised at a crucial time in the match and put his team on road to a well deserving victory despite missing star trio of Harry Kewell (Liverpool), Mark Viduka and Mark Schwarzer (both Middlesbr-ough) who are busy with European club commitments.

Guus Hiddink (PSV) was the other important component missing in the Australian line-up.

Bahrain on the other hand, missed Kuwait Club's influential defender Hussain Baba through suspension and midfielder Talal Yousef, who retired from international soccer recently.

Bahrain still made a good start and almost took the lead in the 20th minute when a powerful free-kick by defender Mohammed Hussain was well denied by Australian goalkeeper Ante Covic.

Playing with five defenders, the Aussies kept the lone Bahrain forward Hussain Ali and a packed midfield at bay till the 37th minute.

But Bahrain broke through Salman Isa who made a spirited run on the left flank before setting up Ali. Romanian-based defender Michael Thwaite left Ali unmarked and the Bahraini forward scored comfortably from six yards.

Bahrain could not sustain the pressure and eventually let Aussies back in the match in the second-half.

Aussie assistant coaches Graham Arnold and Johan Neeskens introduced a third striker - Brett Holman for Thwaite - and that added the much-required shooting power upfront.

Aussies finally broke the Bahrain defence as captain Skoko made the most of a free kick and his measured lob was well headed by Thompson.

But Skoko was not finished yet as he himself found the target in the 85th minute to put the Aussies ahead. The 31-year-old from English championship club Stoke collected a pass from Thompson and positioned himself well before unleashing a pile-driver from 22 yards which beat Bahrain's veteran goalkeeper Ali Hassan.

A desperate Bahrain coach Luka Peruzovic introduced Bahrain's top striker Ala'a Hubail in place of Hussain Salman.

But the top scorer at the 2004 Asian Cup in Beijing could not do much as time was fast running out.

Australia were also in no mood to concede anything and they swiftly wrapped up the match in the 87th minute converting a penalty which was awarded after Bahrain's Abdulla Al Marzooqi was pulled up for a rough foul on Elrich.

It was a final blow for Bahrain as Al Marzooqi was also given the marching orders.

Elrich converted from the spot to seal victory.

written by Rami Hulayyel (for Gulf News)