Bounce-back win keeps Socceroos alive
It wasn't the Socceroos best game, but it was a good win and a much-needed three points. Australia v UAE29 March 2017 | Pablo Bateson
It was by no means an emphatic victory last night in Sydney, rather much relief for the Socceroos and their fans to have secured three points.
The challenge was to beat United Arab Emirates (UAE) or else lose any realistic opportunity of finishing in a top-two spot for automatic qualification from Group B.
Our own closer group of football friends and compadres had met pre-game late afternoon at one of the smaller pubs in Surry Hills, before a short walk to the Sydney Football (Allianz) Stadium.
For Australian supporters it had been a nervous build up, which culminated in a somewhat disappointing attendance of a little more than 27,000 people.
Socceroos Active Support (SAS) did their bit by leading the visual and vocal support at the northern end. Tifo, oversized flags, capo and drummers were part of this package, yet this probably fell a bit short of really setting the traditional 'home end' off for most of the evening.
Three changes to Australia's line-up compared with the previous game were generally positively received by fans and media alike. Trent Sainsbury, James Troisi and Maty Ryan all came back in, with the latter subsequently only having to make two serious saves all night.
The weather conditions were almost ideal, about 22 degrees with very light winds, and a satisfactory pitch surface especially compared to last Thursday at the PAS Stadium in Tehran.
The hosts got off to a flying start after only six minutes. Jackson Irvine got onto a corner from Troisi for a powerful header which deflected off a stranded goal-line defender and into the net.
Understandably this sent the home crowd into raptures, and the chant fired up again of "Ole, ole, ole, ole, Aussies, Aussies.....etc".
Despite this early release of the 'pressure valve', for the rest of the first half the Socceroos struggled to take the game to the next level. However, their opponents response was also unconvincing, with "Al Sukoor" (the Eagles) rarely threatening on goal.
Star creative midfield player Omar Abdulrahman was mostly well contained as his side's opponents pressed well throughout the match.
In the second half, the Australian team lifted the tempo and intensity to dominate in all areas of the park. Numerous clear cut chances were created yet not converted, either by sheer misfortune or poor finishing. By contrast, UAE was stifled and created very little in the final third.
The increased pressure by the Socceroos eventually paid off in the 78th minute when Mathew Leckie headed home for the second consecutive match.
Melbourne Victory attacking midfielder Troisi provided the 'assist', another of his numerous crosses in set pieces that caused problems for the UAE defence.
A 2-0 final scoreline brought relief at least as much as joy for the home team and fans. Coach Ange Postecoglou was justifiably proud of his team's bounce back and the intensity displayed especially after half time.
Overall the performance had been solid and our defending very sound. By not pushing the margin up to at least four in this game, goal difference may eventually become a critical factor in determining Australia's finishing position.
With both Japan and Saudi Arabia winning later in the night, the pressure remains on the Socceroos. They must either win all three remaining games or perhaps two wins and draw away at Saitama may just be enough.
For now, the focus must be getting the squad in the right shape for prevailing over Saudi Arabia at the Adelaide Oval on 8 June.
The most positive aspect from last night's victory is that Australia's campaign for Russia 2018 qualification is still more than alive.
Let us collectively contribute with ongoing unconditional support for our Socceroos to fulfil that shared dream.
socceroos, world cup qualifier