Harry Kewell scored another of his big-match goals to unlock Iraq and edge Australia closer to the final phase of World Cup qualifying here Sunday.
Kewell, 29, whose goal against Croatia lifted Australia into the second round of the 2006 World Cup finals, grabbed the winner two minutes into the second half after the home side had ridden their luck in the opening half.
Skipper Kewell eased Australia’s anxieties with a well-taken header, outjumping his marker Abdul Amir Haidar to nod home Brett Emerton’s cross from the right.
It was the 10th goal in 32 international appearances for Kewell, who is emerging from a couple of injury-blighted seasons.
Kewell was taken off with 13 minutes left to rapturous applause from the home crowd.
Iraq came close to grabbing a draw in the final 10 minutes, with Ali Hussein Rehema and Mulla Mohammed Hawar denied by last-ditch defending.
Asian champions Iraq did not even know they would be playing the Australians until FIFA reversed a decision on Thursday to suspend them from competition over political interference from their government.
Australia have seven points from their three qualifiers and have not conceded a goal, while Iraq have just one point.
Sunday’s defeat has all but killed off Iraq’s chances of reaching the final phase of qualifying with three games left in the group.
The victory has put Australia in the box seat to advance when they play their return World Cup qualifier against Iraq in Dubai next weekend.
Iraq had three outstanding chances in the first half and Australia were fortunate not to concede a goal for the first time in three qualifying games.
Emad Mohammed rattled the bar in the fifth minute after goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer had punched clear a corner.
Emad later found himself unmarked in the box after sloppy Australian marking but his shot was deflected for a corner by Schwarzer’s leg in the 26th minute.
And skipper Younis Mahmoud had a free header in the six-yard box, the chance going wide of Schwarzer’s right post.
Kewell came in for special attention from the Iraqi defence and he was fouled three times, two of the offences leading to yellow cards for defenders Rehema and Haidar.
The Iraqis, like they did in their 3-1 win at last year’s Asian Cup, frustrated the Australians with their stoppages during play and several times Socceroo players lost their cool, remonstrating with Uzbekistan referee Ravshan Irmatov.
Kewell provided Australia’s best chance in the 19th minute of the first half, latching on to a cross from defender David Carney and forcing goalkeeper Noor Sabri Abbas to punch clear.
The Iraqis, constantly dangerous on the counter-attack, forced four corners in the opening half before the home side claimed three quick corners in the final minutes of the half.
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