The Socceroos have maintained their perfect record on the road to Russia 2018, seeing off a stubborn Tajikistan 3-0 in Dushanbe on Tuesday night.
Second half goals from stalwarts Mark Milligan and skipper Tim Cahill – who finished with a brace - ensured all three points for Australia, to maintain their spot on top of the group after three games.
It was a far tougher assignment for Ange Postecoglou’s side than they faced against Bangladesh last week but they did what was required against the 158th-ranked East Asian nation.
Aaron Mooy produced another exceptional performance in midfield, while the back-four were again solid and disciplined for the entire 90 minutes.
Postecoglou made three changes from the side that crushed Bangladesh just five days ago.
Tom Rogic, Nathan Burns Tarek Elrich all dropped to the bench, replaced by Matt McKay, Ryan McGowan and Cahill.
And it was Cahill that had Australia’s best opportunities early on, missing the target with three separate headed chances.
The artificial surface at the Central Republican Stadium clearly affected the speed of the Socceroos game but they were still fizzing the ball around with confidence.
Mathew Leckie’s pace was causing problems as well, but every time the visitors created a shooting-chance, a Tajik body was in the way.
The Socceroos' best chance of the first half came on the half hour mark with the home side somehow surviving a double scare.
Massimo Luongo’s close-range effort was brilliant kept out by ‘keeper Alisher Dodov, before the rebound eventually found its way into the path of Leckie at the top of the box, with his goal-bound effort cleared off the line.
Despite having almost double the possession and attempting 15 shots to the Tajiks three, the Green and Gold had to be content with being on level terms at the break.
Only the width of the crossbar denied the Socceroos and Mooy five minutes after the restart.
The Melbourne City star let rip with a powerful free-kick from 30 metres out, the ball dipping wickedly but only hitting the woodwork with the ‘keeper beaten.
Mooy’s next involvement seven minutes later was more telling, playing in the corner which fell to Milligan to poke it home from a couple of metres out.
The result was made safe 17 minutes from time with Cahill finishing off a brilliant move for his 40th Socceroos goal.
Milligan chipped the ball out to substitute Burns on the right, the FC Tokyo man rewarding Ryan McGowan’s lung-busting overlapping run with an exquisite pass before the fullback found Cahill for a simple tap-in.
After Luongo and Burns both squandered glorious opportunities soon in the latter stages, Cahill put the icing on the cake in the final minute with a superb header from Tommy Oar’s centre.
That’s three wins from three for the Socceroos sets up a top-of-the-table clash away in Jordan next month.
Australia 3 (Milligan 57’, Cahill 73’, 90’)comments