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Early salvo sends hosts Australia into Asian Cup final

By Reuters - Jan 27,2015 - Last updated at Jan 27,2015

Australia’s Robbie Kruse (centre) and UAE’s Omar Abdulrahman battle for the ball during their AFC Asian Cup semifinal match in Newcastle, Australia, on Tuesday (AP photo by Rick Rycroft)

NEWCASTLE, Australia — Hosts Australia rode two early strikes to a 2-0 victory over the United Arab Emirates that sent it into the Asian Cup final for a second successive tournament at a rain-soaked Newcastle Stadium on Tuesday.

The Socceroos, who lost to Japan in the final four years ago, will take on another East Asian power in South Korea on Saturday in Sydney looking to seal a first continental title at their third attempt.

Defenders led the way for the goal-happy tournament hosts with Trent Sainsbury heading them in front after three minutes and Jason Davidson doubling the lead 11 minutes later.

The UAE stunned champions Japan in a penalty shoot-out to reach the semifinals for the first time since 1996 but another upset never looked on the cards after Australia’s early salvo.

Attacking midfielder Omar Abdulrahman did nothing to detract from his burgeoning reputation with some delightful touches and striker Ahmed Khalil hit the woodwork in the first half but they were unable to create enough clear-cut chances.

The wet pitch probably did not help but Australia, with Matthew Spiranovic restored to the back four after suspension, also defended well enough to contain Abdulrahman and his teammates.

It was at the other end of the pitch that the Socceroos made the most important early impression to the delight of the majority of the crowd of 21,079.

Winger Robbie Kruse had his cross blocked after a burst down the right in the opening couple of minutes but when the corner came swinging into the box, Sainsbury rose unchallenged to head the ball into the net off the turf.

The UAE had its best chance in the 10th minute when Abdelaziz Sanqour broke down the right flank and crossed for striker Khalil to hit the ball first time against the base of the post.

Australia was straight back on the attack, though, and after another surge down the right the ball was heading towards Tim Cahill in front of goal.

Cahill was dragged back as he was attempting a shot and Mathew Leckie then had an effort blocked but the ball fell to Davidson, who calmly drilled it low and hard into the goal.

The Australians were in no mood to sit back and protect their lead but the UAE kept its shape and gradually worked its way back into the contest.

Khalil let fly with a long-range effort that flew past Mat Ryan and wide of the post in the 51st minute and Abdulrahman continued to probe for weaknesses in the Australian defence.

Massimo Luongo, Australia’s find of the tournament, had another impressive game in midfield and his curling effort came close to the target after 72 minutes.

The Socceroos continued to press forward and Leckie forced a save out of Majed Naser in the 75th minute, although the referee failed to see it and awarded a goal kick.

The UAE probably deserved a goal but Ali Ahmed Mabkhout had his shot smothered by Sainsbury in the dying minutes to leave his tally for the tournament at four.

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