Australia 2-1 Syria
Australia: Cahill (13', 109')
Syria: Al Somah (06')
Red card: Al Mawas (Syria)
Australia advance 3-2 on aggregate
Australia took a major step on Tuesday towards next year’s World Cup, defeating 10-man Syria 3-2 on aggregate to end the West Asians’ unlikely run.
The continental champions, under extreme pressure to progress, needed extra time in the second leg at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney, as Tim Cahill scored twice to carry his country to within one final play-off of Russia next summer. Last week’s first leg with Syria finished 1-1 in Malaysia.
Australia had to come from behind in the return match to clinch victory, though, rebounding from Omar Al Somah’s early strike. Syria’s Mahmoud Al Mawas was sent off at the beginning of extra time having collected a second booking.
Australia will next month face the fourth-placed team from the Concacaf section – currently Panama – across two legs for a place at the World Cup.
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Initially, it looked bleak for Ange Postecoglou’s side. On six minutes, a mistake from Mark Milligan allowed Tamer Haj Mohamad to play in Al Somah, who lifted his left-footed finish past Mat Ryan in the home goal. It was Al Somah’s third goal in his past three qualifiers.
However, Australia were level seven minutes later, when captain Cahill headed home Mathew Leckie’s pinpoint cross. It took the veteran forward’s international tally to 49 goals.
Australia, ranked 25 places higher than Syria in the Fifa standings at No 50, looked likely to get the win in the second half, but Leckie headed inches wide and Tom Rogic forced a fine save from goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma.
Australia’s hopes were then handed a significant boost three minutes into extra time, when Al Mawas was sent off for an apparent foul on Robbie Kruse. The Syria midfielder had already been booked.
The home side made their advantage count 11 minutes from time, Cahill rising high to power a header past Alma and bring up half a century for his national team.
Australia held on – Al Somah struck the post with a free kick right at the death – and now stand two matches from a fourth successive World Cup.
Meanwhile, Syria’s wait for a first appearance at a global finals continues.