The Socceroos are just one away from qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after beating the United Arab Emirates 2-1 in an Asian qualifier on Wednesday morning.
Australia were on the back foot in the first half as they played conservatively and conservatively. But things changed eight minutes into the second period as the Socceroos seemed to come out of nowhere.
Winning the ball high up the pitch, winger Martin Boyle danced and weaved his way past the defender before whipping in a low cross for midfielder Jackson Irvine to smash home at the near post.
The lead quickly evaporated as the UAE equalized three minutes later. Centre-back Bailey Wright was beaten by dangerous teenager Harib Abdellah and headed home a cross into the path of Caio Canedo.
But the Sockers woke up from their first-half woes and began to threaten regularly. Irwin Australia scored a goal in the 63rd minute by hitting a cross from the right side. The left-back found Craig Goodwin at the back post but the Adelaide United star missed a golden opportunity from close range.
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Midfielder Ajdin Hrustic scored a corner kick on the edge of the field in the 84th minute as Eintracht Frankfurt won the Europa League title. He skimmed the half volley back into the center of the goal only to deflect it on the six yard line.
The Socceroos now play Peru next Tuesday morning (4am AEST), also in Doha, right in the World Cup.
A win would then ensure qualification for a fifth-straight World Cup – and a $15m qualifying prize from FIFA. But against a deadly Peru team, the Socceroos still face a very real chance of missing out on soccer’s premiership for the first time in two decades.
Asked about the cagey clash and the Socceroos’ poor first half, Irvine told 10: “The games go like that sometimes, you can feel that gaga zone. We chose our moments well and when we had quality moments they were big on them, and in games like this it comes down to good margins.
“Obviously we conceded a goal but we knew we had enough at key times to win the game and I’m happy to have taken one of them myself.”
Irvine added: “Obviously it’s a great feeling, but when the final whistle goes and you immediately stand up, you have that euphoric moment, it’s half-time, and it’s a good result which means we can go into the rest of the week confident.” .
“Like I said, the job is only half done and we’ll have another tough week of preparation. Recover, get ready to go again. We have a good team with good energy about us and I’m already excited for next week.
Hrustic said: “We’ve put in a lot of work and are working our ass off so to speak. And we conceded a goal and we shouldn’t have. We kept going, we kept fighting and we took our chances and the Australian goal was for all the boys, for our staff, because we put in a lot of time and it wasn’t easy. I don’t think everyone realizes how much work we do; So I’m happy, really happy.
As it happened
The Socceroos have made an impressive starting 11, with two youngsters featuring once each in defensive duo Kay Rolls and Nathaniel Atkinson, while veteran winger Matt Leckie starts at centre-forward.
It comes after the Socceroos suffered three injury setbacks in the lead-up to the game, with Jason Davidson, Trent Sainsbury and Adam Taggart all missing through injury, while Tom Rogic was previously withdrawn from the squad for personal reasons.
In a poor first half, the Socceroos managed just two shots – none on target – and were conservative and slow with the ball. As has been the case for most qualifying campaigns, Australia’s best chances came from crosses, particularly set pieces.
Martin Boyle showed flashes of danger in the first five minutes when he whipped in a low cross and after 15 minutes Jackson Irvine found a floating cross which the midfielder headed home. In the 34th minute, Craig Goodwin was fouled deep down the left wing and the Adelaide United star sent a superb free-kick past the unsuspecting Kay Rowles to head home what was arguably Australia’s best first-half chance.
The UAE had the better chances in the first half as the Australian fullback repeatedly got behind Atkinson, especially through the slick and aggressive 19-year-old Harib Abdullah, who forced Matt Ryan into three close-range saves.
The Socceroos constantly struggled to break into the Emirates defence, which can be partly explained by a significant tactical change from Graham Arnold, with both fullbacks playing more defensively to thwart the UAE’s counter-attacking threat.
Harib Abdella needed less than five minutes into the second half to find the ball in a dangerous position and slot past Atkinson for another try from a tight angle.
It took Martin Boyle magic to break the show. The balls that looked out of place won the ball in the 53rd minute. Boyle – who had no chances to run at defenders in the opening half – beat a defender with both hands and slotted low into the six-yard box.
Midfielder Jackson Irvine got to the near post and slotted home.
Three minutes later, Irvine was the man who equalized for the United Arab Emirates. Harib Abdellah – the most influential player in the game up to that point – again found the ball deep on the left side. He shook off Bailey Wright, who had no support from other defenders, and whipped him in with a cross. On the edge of the six-yard box, a pass from Irvine and Caio flicked the ball into the roof of the net.
Then in the 63rd minute, Craig Goodwin headed home Jackson Irvine’s cross. But Goodwin’s rush to the back post was atrocious, giving them a golden opportunity to regain the lead.
But the Socceroos are pushing forward. Boyle was growing in influence, and just in the 70th minute he won a corner after another amazing run past the defense. The resulting corner found Kay Rawls at the back post but his header was easily saved.
Soon after, Ajdin Hrustic cut in from the right and unleashed a wild curling shot, which was nevertheless a positive sign given his long-range ability.
Striker Jamie McClaren was introduced for Goodwin with 18 minutes remaining and almost scored within two minutes.
Fullback Behić got on the end of a long cross from Hrustic before firing the ball to McLaren eight yards from goal. As McClaren struggled to control the difficult ball, the defender lunged at Boyle and the ball went wide.
McLaren’s movement and quick passing had an impact. In the 80th minute, Hrustic formed a triangular pattern with Hrustic and Boyle, Hrustic played a wonderful ball into the box. McClaren confidently saved the volley from a narrow angle.
But in the 84th minute, it was Hrustic who was quiet throughout the game and turned the tide of the game. The ball went out to the edge of the area and the midfielder rocketed it straight at the keeper – only for a defender to brutally send it into the net.
It was the 25-year-old’s third strike for the green and gold.
With the UAE desperate to push forward, Arnold turned to the bench at the death to bring on another defender in Milos Degenek and fresh-footed Hour Mabel in stoppage time.
“It was very difficult,” said Martin Boyle. It was very difficult but most disappointingly, when we scored we conceded immediately.
But we behaved well, I think we controlled most of the game. Matty made a couple of good saves at the near post but I thought we were very good and took the chances when they came.
Manager Graham Arnold has opted to reward regular players for his club during the season – with veteran duo Matt Ryan and Aaron Mooy the exceptions to the rule.
Captain Matt Ryan will start in goal.
In defence, youngster Nathaniel Atkinson will start at right-back for only the second time, beating Italy-based Fran Karacic.
In central defense, Bailey Wright and Kay Rawls, who won 50 caps in last week’s friendly win over Jordan, Aziz Behich is at left back.
Wright recently helped Sunderland to promotion to the Championship, but last week was his first international appearance since October 2019.
In midfield, Aaron Mooy will start as expected, with Ajdin Hrustic and Jackson Irvine rounding out the central three.
This will see Martin Boyle and Craig Goodwin on the wing in front of Matthew Leckie.
Goodwin started the game on the left wing with Leckie in the middle and Boyle on the right.
Leckie has played on the wing in 24 games for Melbourne City this season.
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