TIM Cahill has once again delivered when his country needed him most to secure the Socceroos a spot in the Asian Cup semi-finals.
Australia’s all-time leading scorer netted twice in the second-half at Suncorp Stadium to guide the Socceroos to a 2-0 quarter-final win over a plucky China.
Cahill’s first in the 49th minute was spectacular, with the former Everton star unleashing with a wonderful bicycle kick that was too good from close range for China goalkeeper Wang Dalei.
His second 17 minutes later was trademark Cahill.
Found by an excellent cross from recalled fullback Jason Davidson, Cahill buried a powerful header into the corner of the net, much to the delight of the crowd of more than 46,000.
The Socceroos will now meet either Japan or the United Arab Emirates, who meet tonight in Sydney, next Tuesday in Newcastle for a place in the Asian Cup final.
Cahill’s inclusion last night was one of seven changes Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou made to the team that started in the 1-0 loss to South Korea last Saturday night at the same venue.
Fit-again skipper Mile Jedinak returned after missing Australia’s past two matches with an ankle injury, with Mark Milligan dropping back to the bench.
Jedinak was noticeably rusty but will be better for the run going into the semi-finals.
Veteran playmaker Mark Bresciano made his first start of the tournament, coming in for Matt McKay.
As expected, attacking trio Cahill, Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse were recalled at the expense of Tomi Juric, Nathan Burns and James Troisi.
At left back, Davidson displaced Aziz Behich, while the other backline change was enforced, with Alex Wilkinson replacing the suspended Matthew Spiranovic.
China coach Alain Perrin also wasn’t afraid to tinker with line-up, making four changes to the team that started in Team Dragon’s 2-1 win over North Korea last Sunday.
Coming into the line-up were defender Ren Hang, midfielder Wu Xi and forwards Wu Lei and Ji Xiang.
Lei, the man dubbed the “Chinese Maradona” was dangerous early as Perrin’s men threatened to spoil the Socceroos’ party.
It was only some desperate last ditch defending from Alex Wilkinson prevented Wu from opening the scoring in the 14th minute.
The Socceroos eventually settled and forced their way into the contest.
Bresciano’s inclusion meant some quality set pieces. Twice the recalled playmaker delivered pinpoint free-kicks that created opportunities for Mile Jedinak and Mathew Leckie.
Jedinak’s 26th minute header was saved by China goalkeeper Wang Dalei, while an unmarked Leckie should have done better 10 minutes later but sent his header over the crossbar.
Leckie also had a great chance in the 29th minute after finding space in China’s penalty area with a weaving run.
But his goalbound shot was well saved by Dalei, who was excellent in a losing team.
However, Dalei was beaten four minutes after half-time in the moment of the match.
Left unmarked in the penalty area after China seemed to stop when their skipper Zheng Zhi fell to the ground clutching his head, Cahill, with his back to goal, showed great flexibility to produce a wonderful bicycle kick that not only gave Australia the lead, but the necessary impetus to end China’s gallant Asian Cup run.
Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan also made crucial saves in the second half as the Chinese team attempted to fight their way back into a contest they controlled early.
2015 ASIAN CUP QUARTER-FINAL
AUSTRALIA 2 (Cahill 48’, 65’) CHINA 0
Crowd: 46,067 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Australia (4-3-3): Ryan; Franjic, Wilkinson, Sainsbury, Davidson; Jedinak, Luongo, Bresciano; Kruse, Leckie, Cahill.
China (4-1-4-1): Wang; Zhang Ch, Zhang LP, Ren H, Mei F; Cai Huikang; Sun Ke, Wu Xi, Zheng Zhi, Ji Xiang; Wu Lei.
Referee: Kim Jong Hyeok (KOR)
AUS: Jedinak, 19’ CHN. L Zhang 54’
Red cards: Nil