Kennedy double sets up Socceroos 3-1 win
Giant striker Josh Kennedy moved Australia a significant step closer to the next Asian qualifying round of the football World Cup, as the Socceroos scored an impressive 3-1 away win over Saudi Arabia on Wednesday morning (AEST)
Kennedy, who also scored in Australia's 2-1 win over Thailand in Brisbane last Friday, goaled once in each half and won a penalty in sweltering conditions in Dammam, where the temperature nudged 40 degrees Celsius.
He headed home in the 40th minute and slotted the ball in for a second goal in the 56th minute.
The Saudis pulled a goal back in the 65th minute through substitute Nassir Al Shamrani, when he pushed the rebound home after Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer saved his penalty attempt.
Luke Wilkshire sealed the win from a 77th minute penalty after Kennedy had his shirt tugged by Hamed Al Montashari.
Socceroos coach Holger Osieck made three changes to his starting lineup, surprisingly leaving out star midfielder Tim Cahill and dropping defender Matthew Spiranovic and midfielder Neil Kilkenny.
Sasa Ognenovski came into the centre of defence and Michael Zullo at left back, with Matt McKay moving from the latter position into midfield and Mile Jedinak drafted into the midfield.
It was a much more assured and professional display from the Socceroos than their much criticised performance against Thailand.
"I was very happy with our performance today, the boys did extremely well ... the boys really showed a great attitude," Osieck said.
The victory pushed Australia three points clear at the top of the group, ahead of Thailand, who beat Oman 3-0 in Bangkok in the day's other group D fixture
"Three goals away from home against arguably the second favourites in the group, now we are in a strong position to finish on top," Socceroos captain Lucas Neill said.
Australia are five points ahead of Oman and Saudi Arabia, with only the top two teams advancing to the next qualifying round.
"We have to carry on we can't become complacent," Osieck said.
"The next home game against Oman they shouldn't be under rated. For sure it is a must win and then I think we have made a major step forward."
The Saudis made the early running, but Schwarzer's toughest first half save came from the boot of teammate Carl Valeri, who inadvertently diverted the ball towards his own goal.
Australia gained the ascendancy towards the end of the half, with McKay and Brett Holman each shooting wide before Kennedy soared over a defender to nod home a Wilkshire cross.
Valeri had a fierce drive tipped over the bar in the 49th minute before Saudi Arabia enjoyed a good spell of pressure.
Australia held firm and Kennedy capitalised on a defensive howler to double the Socceroos lead.
Hard working Brett Holman picked off an attempted pass from Saudi goalkeeper Hasan Al Otaibi and fed Kennedy, who clinically shot the ball past the home custodian.
The Saudis pulled a goal back after a brief break to remove a firework from the field.
Impressive Zullo was adjudged to have fouled Naif Hazazi and Shamrani forced the ball home after the initial penalty save from Schwarzer.
The home team pushed for an equaliser in front of an increasingly vocal crowd, but their hopes were dashed when Wilkshire blasted home from the spot.
"A fantastic effort all round, the boys did really well tonight and on a personal note it's always good to score goals," Kennedy said.