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By ESPN Staff

Australia beat Kuwait to reach Asian Cup finals

SYDNEY, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Australia, without all their European-based players, beat Kuwait 2-0 on Wednesday to become the first team to qualify for next year's Asian Cup finals.

Midfielder Travis Dodd and substitute Sasho Petrovski scored in the last 14 minutes to continue the Socceroos' upward momentum after reaching the second round of the World Cup.

Australia only joined the Asian Football Confederation nine months ago and, following the withdrawal of Lebanon from the competition, are guaranteed to finish in the top two of three-team Group D after winning their opening two qualifiers.

'It was always going to be a very difficult game and was exactly what I expected,' Australia's interim coach Graham Arnold told a news conference.

'Overall, I'm very happy with the fact the players kept their patience and their structure.'

Neither team mustered an effort on goal in the opening stages and the first strike on target was a powerful 20-metre snap shot from Australia midfielder David Carney which was easily saved by goalkeeper Nawaf Al Khaldi.

Australia striker Archie Thompson then fired wide from close range and should have done better than head straight at the keeper when unmarked six metres out.

Kuwait created their best chance soon after halftime following a mazy dribble by forward Bader Al Mutwa, Khalaf Al Mutairi pulling his shot wide from a narrow angle.

Australia continued to enjoy the bulk of possession, however, and finally broke through 14 minutes from the end.

Carney found space on the left edge of the penalty area and took the ball to the byline before cutting it back for Dodd to score on his international debut with a crisp shot from 10 metres.

Dodd turned provider three minutes from time, sending in a powerful shot from the edge of the area which Al Khaldi could only parry to Petrovski, who turned the ball home from close range.

Arnold said the victory showed that Australia could cope without leading players like Harry Kewell.

'The A-League players showed they can handle international football,' he said. 'We all know what Harry Kewell can do but we needed to know about others.'

Australia beat Bahrain 3-1 in their opening qualifier.

Asian Cup co-hosts Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand were guaranteed places in the tournament.