Socceroos return to World Cup qualifying in style with dominant win over Kuwait

The Socceroos made the perfect return to the international fray, taking a big step towards the next round of World Cup qualifying with a 3-0 win over Kuwait.

Mathew Leckie headed Australia in front in the opening minute, with Jackson Irvine adding a second in the 24th, while Ajdin Hrustic rounded out the victory with a delightful second-half free kick at Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium.

The result takes Graham Arnold’s side five points clear of Kuwait at the top of group B, with a game in hand.

After 567 days between games, the Socceroos boss would have been pleased with the emergence of more squad depth.

Hrustic starred on his starting debut as playmaker while Fran Karacic impressed on debut at right-back and Kenny Dougall and Riley McGree made their first international appearances in the second half.

James Holland started at defensive midfield in his first international appearance since 2014 while Ryan McGowan returned to the starting XI for the first time since 2017.

Australia dominated from the outset and quickly made it count when Leckie, wearing the captain’s armband, rose between two defenders to bury Aziz Behich’s looping ball to the back post.

In the 23rd minute, Hrustic earned an arguably soft penalty when Fahad Al Ebrahim was ruled to have clipped his ankles as he skipped through.

Martin Boyle’s spot-kick was well-saved by Sulaiman Abdulghafoor but a fleet-footed Irvine smashed home the rebound.

The Socceroos could easily have extended their first-half lead while Kuwait created a couple of speculative chances on the counter.

Mat Ryan made a good reflex save to deny Shabaib Al-Khaldi at his near post in the 62nd minute.

Four minutes later, Hrustic stepped up and buried a wonderfully-struck free kick in off the post to seal three points.

Dougall capped off his week, where he scored two goals in the League One play-off final to secure Blackpool promotion to the English Championship, with a debut in the 64th minute, while McGree was called upon in the 83rd.