Qantas Socceroos close in on Qatar 2011

Australia has taken another step towards qualification for the 2011 Asian Cup, despite squandering a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw with Kuwait in Kuwait City.

Australia has taken another step towards qualification for the 2011 Asian Cup, despite squandering a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw with Kuwait in Kuwait City.

The result means Australia needs a draw or better in its match against Indonesia in March in Brisbane to book its place at next year's tournament in Qatar, with Kuwait on top of the group with eight points, level with Australia and one ahead of Oman.

Australia had led 2-0 within five minutes after capitalising on some lax defence from the home side on two occasions. Luke Wilkshire latched on to a rebounding ball three minutes in for his second goal in as many games while Dean Heffernan then scored his first goal for the Qantas Socceroos when Kuwait failed to deal with a free kick, allowing the Central Coast Mariner to slot from close range.

But Kuwait showed the same character it displayed in the 1-0 win over Australia in Canberra 10 months ago to level by half-time. On 39 minutes, Hamad Al Enezi finished well after a defensive mistake, while five minutes later a sublime pass from the influential Bader Al Mutwa set up Younes Nasser for the equaliser.

Kuwait had the better chances of the second half, and Eugene Galekovic was called upon to make a save off the busy Al Enezi late on, but Australia held on and has its Asian Cup destiny in its own hands heading into the March 3 clash against Indonesia, which is out of contention.

It was a bizarre start to the match, with Australia immediately getting on the front foot from set pieces. A Heffernan throw-in found his old Central Coast team-mate Mile Jedinak in the box and he headed back towards Wilkshire, who had no trouble finding the net with his left foot.

The home side had barely had time to draw breath when Nicky Carle took a free kick from the right. It floated in, found Heffernan and Archie Thompson unmarked, and Heffernan pulled the trigger making it 2-0 inside five minutes.

Thompson looked the man most likely to extend the lead for Australia in the first half and he shot wide on 21 minutes, while Dario Vidosic was making some strong progress in attack as well.

But an early substitution which saw Al Enezi came on, changed the nature of the game. With two men up front, Kuwait looked much more potent and Yousuf should have shot when he passed on 35 minutes.

The attacking pressure finally cracked the Australian defence soon after when Simon Colosimo made an error allowing Al Enezi in on goal. He stopped and steered his shot between Craig Moore's legs and into the far corner.

Al Mutwa, the most impressive of the home side's players, then showed his excellent passing skills to set up the second. Given too much space he found an angle to slide a pass to Yousuf on the left. The striker did the rest and teams headed to half-time at 2-2.

Al Mutwa was again busy for the first 15 minutes of the second half, setting up Saleh Al Hendi, who could only fire over. Al Enazi then went within inches of giving his side the lead when he slid a shot past Galekovic but just wide of the post.

That proved a wake-up call for Australia, which changed its defensive approach and began to get control of the midfield. Substitute Nikita Rukavystya came closest to scoring for Australia, forcing a save from a tight angle on 70 minutes.

Galekovic saved his best effort for the night until the final 10 minutes, diving well to meet another shot from Al Enazi in what was to prove the last serious threat for the game.

Kuwait 2 (Al Enazi 39 Yousuf 44) Australia 2 (Wilkshire 3, Heffernan 5) Kuwait SC, Kuwait City

Australia 82 . Eugene Galekovic (gk), 3.Craig Moore, 8. Luke Wilkshire. 11 Nick Carle (86. Matt Thompson 89), 16. Mile Sterjovski (45. Nikita Rukavytsya 60). 20. Simon Colosimo, 28. Mile Jedinak, 32. Archie Thompson (21. Bruce Djite 92), 72. Dean Heffernan, 101. Dario Vidosic, 118. Matthew Kemp

Unused Subs: 88. Danny Vukovic, 41. Matt McKay