Cahill strikes winner against Oman

MELBOURNE: Tim Cahill once again proved to be Australia’s hero by scoring the winner against Oman, putting the Socceroos on top of their Asian Cup qualifying group here today.

Oman looked set to frustrate the Socceroos team of European stars before the Everton midfielder rifled home the winner 16 minutes from time. It continued Cahill’s fantastic strike rate, with his 19th goal in 36 internationals. The hard-earned victory hoisted Australia to the top of Group B with a crucial three points after their scratchy start to qualifying for the 2011 tournament in Qatar.

The Aussies had put themselves in trouble when a below-strength side was upset 1-0 by Kuwait in Canberra in March after drawing 0-0 with Indonesia in Jakarta in January.

Oman looked on course to repeat their determined performance from the 2007 Asian Cup in Bangkok when the Australians needed an injury-time goal from Cahill to scrape home with a 1-1 draw. But Australia’s repeated attacks finally were rewarded by Cahill’s strike.

Oman’s veteran French coach Claude Le Roy said Australia did not deserve to beat his team. “I am very disappointed because we know we aren’t the best team in the world, but this team has a fantastic spirit, it’s very loyal but maybe sometimes a little naive,” Le Roy said. “We’ll be ready for Australia when they come to Muscat next month.”

Oman weathered an early Socceroo onslaught and matched their more illustrious rivals for the rest of the opening 45 minutes. A Cahill header skimmed the bar and Josh Kennedy had a shot saved before the Omanis worked their way back into the contest.

Midfielder Fawzi Bashir gave the Aussies a fright in the 23rd minute when goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer pushed his fizzing volley on to an upright, before Amad Al Hosni blasted over the bar after being put through by Bashir minutes later. Kennedy then had a header well saved by goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi before midfielder Jason Culina let fly with a rasping long-range volley that was just wide in first-half stoppage time.

Al Habsi had the good fortune of saving Lucas Neill’s shot with his head just after the resumption as Oman rode their luck. Cahill finally broke the deadlock in the 74th minute after Scott Chipperfield broke free on the left. His pass was flicked on by Kennedy into the path of Cahill whose volley went in off the far post.