AUSTRALIA 3 ECUADOR 4

Australia's greatest goalscorer: Tim Cahill scored twice against Australia.

Australia's greatest goalscorer: Tim Cahill scored twice against Ecuador. Photo: Getty Images

Australia's preparations for the 2014 World Cup have been dealt a blow after slumping to a morale sapping 4-3 loss to Ecuador following a 92nd minute winner by Edison Mendez.

The Socceroos led 3-0 in a first-half performance that gave the nation hope ahead of the World Cup despite being pitted against giants Spain, Netherlands and Chile.

Ecuador's players celebrate their winning goal.

Ecuador's players celebrate their winning goal. Photo: AP

The Socceroos were slick, quick and composed as they dominated the midfield against a nation that qualified directly from the cut-throat South America group.

However the capitulation that followed immediately after the restart deflated high hopes of a miracle in Brazil as the Socceroos suffered their greatest second-half capitulation.

Whether it was complacency, being overawed or simply a lack of experience at international level, the experimental Australia squad simply had no response to Ecuador's courageous fightback that saw South Americans strike the back of the net four times in 34 minutes.

Mile Jedinak slots home a goal from the penalty slot.

Mile Jedinak slots home a goal from the penalty slot. Photo: Getty Images

In a match where the result mattered little more than the performance, there were still plenty of positives for the Socceroos who began with a surprising sense of composure.

They had the Ecuadorians on the back foot early and new captain Mile Jedinak struck Australia's first attempt from a set piece but was denied a dream goal by the outstretched goalkeeper Adrian Bone.

It was the first of a number of Australian raids on the Ecuadorian goal as Tim Cahill perhaps should have opened the scoring with a glancing header that he couldn't keep below the crossbar. It was a warning for the visitors, one they didn't take notice of and were soon punished in the eighth minute.

From a corner, Mark Milligan looped a header towards Cahill from deep and the Socceroos striker nodded a clever header from close range into the pocket of the net to give Australia a deserved lead.

Their advantage was doubled just seven minutes later after Cahill was pulled down in the box by Gabriel Achilier. Jedinak stepped up to lead by example, wrongsiding Bone to score his first goal wearing the armband.

The Socceroos' scoring was complete by the half hour mark when Cahill looked to have sealed the result with an hour left to play. Australia's go-to man latched on to a delicate Tommy Oar cross from deep and struck his second goal with an emphatic diving header from close range.

Cahill thought he had netted his hat-trick in the 40th minute when yet another connection with an Oar cross gave him space in the air inside the box, though in a rare moment his header was thwarted around the post by Bone.

The Ecuadorians responded to their lethargic opening first half by making four changes after the break and the shake-up triggered an immediate response. The South Americans, who were barely in the contest in the first half, had the Australians pegged deep in their own half for the first time in the match and they flourished. After wearing down Australia's back line in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, Ecuador drew blood. A cut back from Enner Valencia down the left flank opened up Australia's defence allowing substitute Fidel Martinez to score a simple tap in.

It was game on minutes later. A poor back pass played Valencia through on goal but the Ecuador striker was hacked down by substitute goalkeeper Mitch Langerak. The Dortmund keeper was given his marching orders for a careless and wild challenge which forced Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou to deploy his third goalkeeper of the match. Brad Jones entered to face the penalty but his first involvement in the match was picking the ball out of the net as Segundo Castillo calmly slotted home from the spot.

The vintage performance of the first half and the comfort in which the Socceroos strolled out for the second half had dissipated. Australia were rattled with nerves, void of structure and without a response to the Ecuadorian onslaught. The visitors were shooting at will as they created chances with ease capitalising on the space down both flanks. Ecuador scored their deserved equaliser in the 77th minute through Valencia. A cheap turnover in midfield gave Ecuador the chance to counter and with a numerical advantage, the outcome was simple - an easy tap-in for the man who lead the comeback.

The final 15 minutes became saving practice for Jones and the Liverpool shot stopper was up to the task, just. He looked to have palmed the Socceroos to safety with save after save. However Alex Wilkinson gifted possession to Ecuador to give them a three-on-one in the 90th minute and veteran Mendez struck a simple winner.

ECUADOR 4 (Fidel Martinez 57m, Segundo Castillo 61m pen, Enner Valencia 77m, Edison Mendez 90+2m) bt AUSTRALIA 3 (Tim Cahill 8m, 32m, Mile Jedinak 15m pen) at The Den. Referee: Lee Probert.