Tim Cahill powered Australia to a win over China last night, scoring two goals — one of them among the most spectacular ever seen at an Asian Cup — to lead the host nation into the semi-finals.
With his teammates all fluffing their chances in front of goal, Cahill took it upon himself to calm Australia’s jitters and secure the 2-0 win in the quarter-finals at Brisbane’s Lang Park.
Both goals came in the second half, but it was the first — four minutes after the restart — that will be remembered for years to come.
Cahill has made a habit of scoring stunning goals for his country — most memorably his volley against the Netherlands in last year’s World Cup — but last night’s eye-popper was perhaps his finest.
When China failed to clear the ball from an Australian corner, Ivan Franjic innocuously headed the ball into the box in the direction of Cahill, who seemingly had nowhere to go with a defender breathing down his neck.
However, the 35-year-old leapt into the air and performed a perfect overhead bicycle kick, angling the ball past Chinese goalkeeper Wang Dalei.
Sixteen minutes later, Cahill scored again, killing off China’s hopes of going any further in the tournament, when he neatly headed the ball into the corner of the net after a cross from Mathew Leckie, who also had a fine match.
Already Australia’s all-time leading scorer, Cahill’s brace lifted his international tally to 39 goals from 80 appearances and saved his country’s blushes.
Australia now play either Japan or the United Arab Emirates in next week’s semi-finals.
Australia, beaten 1-0 by South Korea in their last group match, dominated possession against the Chinese, but squandered a series of clear chances to score, with Cahill the lone exception.
They also provided their supporters with some heart flutters, carelessly giving the ball away on a handful of occasions and allowing China to threaten on the counterattack.
Australia captain Mile Jedinak, returning to the side after missing the past two group games with an ankle injury, was among the worst offenders and allowed his frustrations to get the better of him when he was booked for a reckless tackle on Ren Hang.
China spent most of the first half defending deep inside their own territory, but pressed forward after falling behind and came close to scoring, with Zhang Linpeng unleashing a rocket from long-range that forced Mat Ryan to make a diving save.
Sun Ke and Wu Lei also tested the Australia ‘keeper, but the visitors were unable to respond to Cahill’s brace and bowed out of the competition.
SOUTH KOREA 2, UZBEKISTAN 0
Son Heung-min scored twice in extra-time to give South Korea a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan and send them into the Asian Cup semi-finals on the opposite side of the draw.
The midfielder got on the end of Kim Jin-su’s cross and headed the ball through the hands of Uzbekistan ‘keeper Ignatiy Nesterov to break the deadlock after the 104 minutes of end-to-end action at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
His second came with time running out at the end of the second period when substitute fullback Cha Du-ri charged down the right wing and centered for Son to crash the ball left-footed into the top of the net.
South Korea, seeking their first Asian title since 1960, had faced some nervous moments in the second period of extra-time, but held firm to set up a meeting with Iran or Iraq in Sydney on Monday for a place in the final.
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