Australia stormed into their first Asian Cup final on Tuesday with a 6-0 thrashing of 10-man Uzbekistan to set up a decider against three-time champions Japan.
Galatasary forward Harry Kewell got the opener on five minutes and Asian player of the year Sasa Ognenovski doubled their lead 11 minutes before half-time.
Blackpool’s David Carney put the game beyond doubt on 65 minutes and when Uzbek striker Ulugbek Bakaev was sent off soon after, the match was over.
Australia started running riot, with Blackburn Rovers’ Brett Emerton getting a fourth, Carl Valeri a fifth and Robbie Kruse a sixth as the shell-shocked Uzbeks went to pieces.
It gives the Socceroos a crack at some silverware for the first time ever, but they have a big task ahead with Japan awaiting them on Saturday back at Al Khalifa Stadium after winning a penalty shoot-out 3-0 over South Korea.
Uzbekistan must now lift themselves for a third-place play-off on Friday, with an automatic qualification place for the 2015 event at stake for the winner.
“We had a brilliant game, the players put on a great show and I’m full of praise for them. It was fantastic,” said Australia’s German coach Holger Osieck.
“The secret for victory is the way we presented ourselves on the pitch. We had great shape, we played up and tried to create chances. We were very attack-oriented.”
Despite a lowly ranking of 108, Uzbek coach Vadim Abramov said before the match his players would not be intimidated by the reputation of an Australian side packed with experienced players plying their trade in Europe.
But they clearly were, with the Socceroos making a fast and furious start to take advantage of early Uzbek nerves.
“It was a big problem for us today. I don’t know what happened, there were just too many mistakes,” said Abramov.
“Until now I didn’t think we were so different from Australia. We wanted to attack but there were too many mistakes in our defence, that was our real problem.”
Australia came into the match boosted by news that Everton talisman Tim Cahill was fit after picking up a knock in their quarter-final win over Iraq and he was immediately in the action, only to see his shot easily gathered.
The Socceroos were intent on an early breakthrough and Brett Holman almost got it in the third minute when he connected with a Cahill cross to force a fine one-handed save from Temur Juraev.
The goalkeeper’s heroics counted for little, though, with Kewell stunning the Uzbeks two minutes later, rifling a left-foot drive into the bottom right-hand corner after a nice build-up with the unheralded Matt McKay.
Uzbekistan slowly played themselves into the game and were awarded a free-kick just outside the box in the 16th minute.
Maksim Shatskikh stepped up and sent a curling shot just wide of the post, but Mark Schwarzer, who won a record-equalling 87th cap to match the feat of Alex Tobin, had it covered.
The Uzbeks had possession but there was little penetration, and a break down the left by Carney almost saw Australia go two in front, with Juraev getting a hand to the defender’s cheeky chip.
The crowd didn’t have to wait long for the second goal, as Ognenovski found himself in space 12 yards out and emphatically buried a left-foot shot.
It was all Australia after the break, with Carney clipping the ball into the net on a counter-attack, and when Bakaev was sent off for a second yellow card, Osieck’s team took advantage.
They exploited the space, with Emerton easily finishing on 74 minutes after picking up a square pass from Kruse.
The chances started coming thick and fast, and Valeri and Kruse rubbed salt into the Uzbek wounds late on to complete the rout.
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