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A physical Australia side dominated India to win their Asian Cup Group B opener 2-0 on Saturday in front of a crowd largely made up of Indian fans at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.
After a cagey opening 45 minutes, Australia got on the board through Jackson Irvine before Jordan Bos made it 2-0 seconds after coming on as a substitute.
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The encounter felt almost like a home game for India with the crowd at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium largely made up of fans from the Indian diaspora in Doha and they made their presence felt, roaring the team on despite Australia’s early dominance.
But after being shut out in the first half, Australia silenced the crowd with the opening goal soon after the break. Their second deflated both the Indian team and the arena.
“The excitement of the first game [of the Asian Cup] got to the players in the first half,” Australia’s coach Graham Arnold said.
“At half-time, we discussed where we could hurt India and calmed them down. We told them, ‘Just be patient and it will come.'”
The match also saw Japan’s Yoshimi Yamashita become the first woman referee to officiate a men’s Asian Cup encounter, with assistant referees Makoto Bozono and Naomi Teshirogi making it an all-female trio.
Spurred on by the crowd, Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri missed a golden opportunity when he sent a header wide, but Australia turned the screws thereafter and controlled possession as India rarely managed to venture out of their own half.
It soon became apparent that India were no match for Australia’s physicality across the pitch as the 2015 champions regularly won duels to prevent Igor Stimac’s side from progressing the ball.
“[It was] very difficult match for us with the physicality of Australia, we suffered from their corners,” Stimac said.
“We couldn’t get out of the zone and were unable to make that second pass to move past the half line… Australia are more experienced, they read situations better.”
India held firm until the break, but five minutes after the restart Australia found the breakthrough.
Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh failed to deal with a cross and his tame effort to palm it away fell to Irvine, who needed no second invitation to score.
“We had to be patient. These games are cagey when teams play deep,” Irvine said.
“We created some really good moments but maybe rushed things in the first half.”
The goal took the wind out of India’s sails and Australia capitalised with a second in the 73rd minute when Riley McGree dribbled into the box and cut a pass back for Bos to score.
Although Australia took all three points, Arnold said there was still room for improvement.
“One disappointment was our set pieces. You’ve got to credit India for how they set up against that,” Arnold said.
“Full credit to India for their determination and their fight, they put their bodies on the line a lot of times when we had opportunities… They’re very well-coached.”