Late Thai goal gives hosts a scare before Mathew Leckie settles nerves with winner in Melbourne
World Cup qualifiers: Australia 'gave it everything' to beat Thailand in dramatic final game
Australia missed out on direct qualification for the 2018 World Cup, but booked a play-off date with Syria, by concluding their group campaign with a tense 2-1 win against Thailand in Melbourne on Tuesday.
It was a result that had reduced the UAE’s faint qualification hopes, before they came to a disappointing end when Iraq beat them 1-0 hours later.
The Asian champions, seeking to reach a fourth successive global finals, clinched the hard-fought victory at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium thanks to second-half goals from Tomi Juric and Mathew Leckie. In between, Pokklaw Anan scored for Thailand to give Australia a scare.
With the win, Ange Postecoglou's men moved second in Group B and into the one remaining automatic berth for Russia next summer. However, Saudi Arabia usurped them after defeating group winners Japan in Jeddah later on Tuesday. The Saudis ended up even with Australia on points possessed a superior goal difference. The UAE finished fourth.
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Australia were made to work for the three points against Thailand, the group’s bottom team. The hosts hit the woodwork three times – twice in the opening 17 minutes – but they went in front finally on 69 minutes when Juric headed home Aaron Mooy’s cross.
Australia were then given a real fright eight minutes from time, once Pokklaw finished well, lifting the ball high into the home goal from a pull-back.
Leckie rescued his side four minutes later, though, drilling home a low shot after the ball dropped invitingly in the Thailand penalty area.
"We got at them, it was a little bit disappointing their goal on the counter, but overall we got ourselves in good scoring positions," Australia captain Mark Milligan said.
"I don't know how many times we hit the post, we gave it everything we had tonight. Credit to Thailand, they hung firm on their 18-yard box for a long time."
Australia’s win also meant the UAE could not qualify automatically for the World Cup. But to clinch a play-off spot, Edgardo Bauza’s side had to defeat Iraq in Jordan later on Tuesday and then hope for Japan to beat the Saudis. Neither happened.
The UAE had only once before qualified for the World Cup, in 1990, and their wait for a second finals appearance will have to wait.