Kuwait 2 - Australia 0

While it wasn't exactly a disaster in terms of its effect on Australia's qualification for next year's Asia Cup in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, yesterday's 2-0 loss in the oppressive heat of Kuwait City is a timely reminder of the challenges that confront Australia on its journey through Asia.

It's what was promised in the FFA's selling of the move into Asia - tough, competitive, meaningful games, more often – but after a couple of fairly comfortable wins in Manama and Sydney to kick off the exercise, the feeling seemingly spread that the Socceroos merely had to turn up to win.

The reality is there are few such luxuries in world football, particularly against a team like Kuwait that is fighting for its Asia Cup qualification life. While the Socceroos were already through to their first finals next July, regardless of the result on this night and their final game on October 11, Kuwait had much more to play for, and it showed.

A nation that is essentially an ever-present in the finals (it has been to five of the past six) is locked in a tussle with Bahrain for the second qualification spot, and in favourable conditions and with a lengthy preparation, this was likely to be a sterner test than the one in Sydney, even with a European based squad.

When Graham Arnold took over on a caretaker basis post the world cup, he was asked by a number of media outlets what the main thing he learnt from Guus Hiddink was? His answer? The importance of preparation.

The reality is the preparation for this match wasn't up to the standard we've seen over the past 12 months. While there was only one pull out (Jason Culina), more concerning was the noise coming out of Kuwait about the heat and how it would disrupt training. We learnt from afar that the Socceroos would only be together for two sessions, and they would be abbreviated ones.

They were negatives vibes, so perhaps it shouldn't be such a surprise the Roos played below their recent high standards. Indeed, they weren't given the best opportunity to play well, both by their own poor preparation and a committed home nation that started well and were more incisive in front of goal.

Once again, as was the case in Sydney, it was the tricky, quick and technically adept striker Bader Al Mutwa who was causing most of the Socceroos early headaches, but this time he had an accomplice, the mobile number 10 Khalef Al Mutairi, playing in behind the two strikers.

Within 10 minutes they'd carved out what looked a legitimate penalty appeal, Al Mutwa playing in Al Mutairi with a delightfully weighted ball that drew Mark Schwarzer of his line and led to some contact.

Al Mutwa was showing off his full repertoire – vision, movement and above all else, awareness. While in Sydney he picked out Mike Valkanis and terrorised him by putting the ball on the ground, here he quickly worked out his best change would come down Australia's right, going at and troubling both Michael Beauchamp and Lubjo Milicevic. He stayed fairly clear of the more mobile Scott Chipperfield, clever stuff.

With Jon McKain also struggling to deal with Al Mutairi, suddenly the Socceroos looked tall and static, as apposed to the nimble and mobile Hiddink unit in Germany.

It took Arnold's men almost 20 minutes to settle down, and by then their shirts were dripping with perspiration. It was tough work, and the Socceroos were struggling to get numbers forward in support of John Aloisi, despite the efforts of Brett Holman to try and link up the midfield and attack.

Indeed it wasn't till Ahmed Elrich limped off and the hitherto unsighted Mile Sterjovski moved to his world cup position on the right, and Ryan Griffiths made his debut on the left, that the Socceroos appeared to function.

Soon enough Josip Skoko, a peripheral figure in a crowded midfield, played a sumptuously weighted ball that managed to split the deep Kuwait backline, getting Sterjovski in behind, his cross somehow smashed against the crossbar by Griffiths with the goal empty. Impossible.

Australia finished the half on top, pinning Kuwait deep and looking controlled in midfield and defence. But the second period started slow for both sides, and didn't spring to life till 10 minutes in.

When Luke Wilkshire was challenged deep in the left back area, his clearance only found Jarah Al Ataiqi, who clipped a delighted left footed ball into the run of Al Mutairi. So well weighted was the cross it committed Schwarzer off his line and left him stranded. In truth he'd been exposed by some poor organisation at the back, the trio of central defenders caught too far to the left, leaving space for the number 10 to run into, untracked.

A few minutes later it was some excellent work from Al Mutwa that doubled the lead. Picking up the ball on the left and faced by Sterjovski, he played a simple one-two with impressive replacement striker Faraq Saeed, driving home from an acute angle, with the outside of the right foot, as Milicevic reacted slowly in covering some lax defending from Sterjovski and Beauchamp.

The second half was a difficult one for Sterjovski, asked to do too much defending by the impressive substitute left wingback, on for the injured Fahad Shaheen and pressing forward at every opportunity.

While half an hour remained after Kuwait's second, there appeared little hope, incentive or energy left in the Socceroos, particularly with the Kuwaiti defence and midfield retreating deeper and deeper, superbly marshaled by skipper and sweeper Al Shamari.

While the result opened up the possibility that Kuwait could still top the group (they would need Bahrain to win in Sydney and then beat Bahrain in Manama four days later), beyond that it proved that preparation is the key and that nothing about this sojourn into Asia should be taken for granted. Some key lessons all round.

written by Tony Tannous on The Roundball Analyst