Australia v UAE: Mahdi Ali’s side beaten in 2018 World Cup qualifier at Sydney
Irvine 7’, Leckie 78’
Man of the match James Troisi (Australia)
SYDNEY // Jackson Irvine and Mathew Leckie headed the goals as Australia all but ended the UAE’s chances of reaching next year’s World Cup in Russia.
The loss means the national team now trail the Australians by four points.
With Saudi Arabia and Japan also above them in Group B, and just three games remaining, a route to qualification appears blocked for the national team.
The UAE were overpowered and outmuscled by the current champions of Asia, resulting in the latest disappointment in a damaging slump in form.
Mahdi Ali, the UAE manager, said on the eve of the game that coping with a 14-hour flight and a seven-hour time difference was going to be difficult for his players.
Presumably to offset some of the fatigue after the turnaround from Thursday’s 2-0 loss to Japan in Al Ain, the manager refreshed his line up by changing almost half the side.
Of the five changes that were made, some were expected. Ismail Ahmed returned to centre-back in place of Hamdan Al Kamali, while Ahmed Khalil was recalled after his calf injury.
Ironically, that meant the two players who wore the captain’s armband on Thursday, Ismail Matar and Al Kamali, were replaced.
Matar remains the leader of the squad. He had been the first player to meet Princess Haya bit Al Hussein when she paid a visit to training on the eve of the game.
But it made sense Khalil should assume Matar’s place in the second striker role. After all, with 15 goals, he was the joint highest scorer in the competition coming into the match.
Ali Khaseif replaced Khalid Essa in goal, and assumed the captaincy in the process. Walid Abbas came in at full-back instead of Abdulaziz Haikal, while Khamis Esmail lost his place in centre midfield to Tariq Ahmed.
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Tiredness from a long journey was not an excuse that would wash for UAE, though. Australia, by contrast, played Iraq in Tehran. That meant a 16-hour journey back home.
Ange Postecoglou, the Socceroos manager, employed a similar method to his opposite number, changing four of the 11 from the 1-1 draw in Iran.
Following the raft of changes, it was the home team who settled fastest.
Just as they were in the semi-final defeat to Australia in the Asian Cup two years ago, the UAE were undone by an early headed goal from a corner. For Trent Sainsbury back then, read Jackson Irvine this time round.
The Burton Albion forward met James Troisi’s cross at the near post, and the ball eventually found its way into the other corner, following a big deflection off Abdulaziz Sanqour on the goalline.
The nature of the goal will have cheered the hosts. They were hurt by the way Iraq got the better of them in the aerial battle last time out, and Mile Jedinak, their captain, said he wanted the players to assert their power early against UAE.
The national team did not shrink after the early setback, though. Mathew Ryan, the Australia goalkeeper, pawed away a fine effort from a 25-yard free kick by Omar Abdulrahman.
The national team seemed flat, but the home side were not much sharper in the first half. It was reflected in a tepid atmosphere in the stands, with the 27,328 in attendance some way short of the 44,000 capacity.
The UAE had some representation in the stands. In the lead up to the game, the Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti embassies in Australia had encouraged their fellow nationals based here to support their Arabian Gulf neighbours.
As such, there were a number of fans wearing UAE scarves while draped in Saudi flags.
Australia nearly had similar joy at the start of the second phase as they did in the first. A flicked on corner reached Jedinak on the stretch at the far post, but his shot found the grateful arms of Khaseif in the UAE goal.
Ali Mabkhout was enduring a second frustrating night in the space of five days up front for UAE. When he did get an opening, he shot home from an almost impossible angle, only to have the goal chalked off for offside.
The chances were just starting to arrive for away side, though. Mohammed Abdulrahman, who was a first-half substitute, lashed in a shot from the left which was beaten away by Ryan. The Al Ain midfielder had his follow up blocked.
The home side were given a huge boost when Tim Cahill, who scored the winner when the sides met in Abu Dhabi six months ago, was introduced as a 70th-minute substitute, a move welcome without the biggest roar of the night.
Almost immediately, the Socceroos had a golden chance to double their advantage and settle the tie, only for Troisi to blaze over with the goal at his mercy.
With the hosts in the ascendancy, Irvine was denied his second by a fine save by Khaseif.
From the resultant corner, Australia struck the terminal blow. Leckie stole in at the near post to head the second, from another Troisi cross to settled the game in the hosts’ favour.
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Updated: March 28, 2017 04:00 AM