Headed goals from Jackson Irvine and Mathew Leckie earned a vital 2-0 win for Australia over United Arab Emirates in Sydney, reviving the Asian champions’ flagging World Cup qualification hopes.
The result, secured by goals either side of a period of heavy pressure from the away team at Allianz Stadium, sees Australia move onto 13 points in Group B of the third round of Asian qualifying, four points clear of UAE and within touching distance of top two Japan and Saudi Arabia, who are in action against Thailand and Iraq respectively later on Tuesday.
The top two teams progress automatically to next year’s finals in Russia, leaving the side in third to battle it out in the dreaded play-offs.
Next up for Ange Postecoglou’s regional title-holders is another crunch showdown with Saudi Arabia in June, when UAE are away to Thailand.
FULL TIME |M A big, big three points for the Socceroos! #GoSocceroos #AUSvUAE #WCQ pic.twitter.com/ujaBHmuoMz
— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) March 28, 2017
Australia, who had drawn their previous four qualifiers, started strongly and earned the lead in the sixth minute, Irvine meeting James Troisi’s cross and heading the ball into the body of Abdelaziz Sanqour, who deflected it past goalkeeper Ali Khaseif.
UAE fired their first major warning shot in the 17th minute, star playmaker Omar Abdulrahman calling the Socceroos’ shot-stopper Mathew Ryan into action from a long-range free-kick.
An unexpected first-half change for the visitors saw Mohamed Abdulrahman join his brother on the field at the expense of Tariq Ahmed.
The hosts wasted a decent chance early in the second half when Brad Smith burst down the left flank, got into the area and tried to pick out Mark Milligan, but the pass was just behind the Baniyas midfield and his subsequent shot was weak and easily held.
In the 56th minute UAE went close again, Mohamed Abdulrahman having a firm shot saved by Ryan at the near post with Smith awkwardly clearing a dangerous Walid Abbas cross a minute later.
Troisi should have doubled Australia’s lead in the 71st minute, shooting over the bar under heavy defensive pressure after Leckie got free down the right flank and cut the ball back for the Melbourne Victory player.
The pressure from the hosts continued to build and they did get the all-important second goal with 12 minutes to go, Leckie heading another Troisi corner down into the ground and across the line to afford Australia some much-needed comfort and restore their hopes of booking a fourth successive World Cup finals appearance.
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