BRISBANE, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Tim Cahill came to Australia’s rescue again on Thursday, scoring two goals, one of them among the most spectacular ever seen at an Asian Cup, to lead the host-nation into the semi-finals.
With his team mates all fluffing their chances in front of goal, Cahill took it upon himself to calm Australia’s jitters and secure a 2-0 win over China in the quarter-finals at Brisbane’s Lang Park.
Both goals came in the second half but it was the first, four minutes after the re-start, that will be remembered for years to come and go viral on the internet.
Cahill has made a habit of scoring stunning goals for his country -- most memorably his volley against the Netherlands in last year’s World Cup -- but Thursday’s eye-popper was perhaps his finest.
When China failed to clear the ball from an Australian corner, Ivan Franjic innocuously headed the ball into the box in the direction of Cahill, who seemingly had nowhere to go with a defender breathing down his neck.
But the 35-year-old, displaying the sort of athleticism of a teenager, leapt into the air and performed a perfect overhead bicycle kick, angling the ball across the six-yard box past the astonished Chinese goalkeeper Wang Dalei.
It was a moment of theatrical magic that not only revived Australia’s title hopes but instantly breathed new life into the tournament.
Sixteen minutes later, Cahill scored again, killing off China’s hopes of going any further in the tournament, when he neatly headed the ball into the corner of the net after a cross from Mathew Leckie, who also had a fine match.
Already Australia’s all-time leading score, Cahill’s brace lifted his international tally to 39 goals from 80 appearances and saved his country’s blushes.
The Australians will now play either Japan or the United Arab Emirates in next week’s semi-finals. South Korea will face Iran or Iraq in the other semi.
The Australians, beaten 1-0 by South Korea in their last group match, dominated possession against the Chinese but squandered a series of clear chances to score with Cahill the lone exception.
They also provided their supporters with some heart flutters, carelessly giving the ball away on a handful of occasions and allowing China to threaten on the counter attack.
The Australian captain Mile Jedinak, returning to the side after missing the last two group games with an ankle injury, was among the worst offenders and allowed his frustrations to get the better of him when he was booked for a reckless tackle on Ren Hang.
China spent most of the first half defending deep inside their own territory but pressed forward after falling behind and came close to scoring with Zhang Linpeng unleashing a rocket from long-range that forced Mat Ryan to make a diving save.
Sun Ke and Wu Lei also tested out the Australian keeper but the visitors were unable to respond to Cahill’s brace and bowed out of the competition as the Australians marched on. (Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)