Ajdin Hrustic’s late deflected strike sealed a 2-1 victory over the United Arab Emirates that put Australia one win away from the World Cup.
The Socceroos could not muster a shot on target in the first half of a do-or-die play-off at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium and they were indebted to Mat Ryan for twice denying Harib Abdalla Suhail at his near post.
Australia got into their stride after break and were in front when Jackson Irvine turned in Martin Boyle’s cross from close range with 53 minutes gone.
The UAE were level four minutes later when Caio Canedo fired into the roof of the net from six yards out with his left foot after Suhail’s cross caused panic in the Socceroos defence.
Craig Goodwin missed a great chance to put Graham Arnold’s side back in front, but the decisive moment came six minutes from time as Hrustic let fly with a powerful left-foot strike that hit Ali Salmeen and gave goalkeeper Khalid Eisa no chance.
Australia will face Peru in an intercontinental play-off at the same venue next Monday, with the winner sealing their place in the showpiece in Qatar. The UAE’s wait for a first World Cup appearance since 1990 goes on.
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