A brace from Australia’s all-time leading scorer, Tim Cahill, was enough to see the Socceroos narrowly edge Syria 2-1 after extra time, 3-2 on aggregate, in Sydney. Cahill’s header in the 109th minute completed the Aussie turnaround and sent them into the inter-confederation playoff, most likely against Panama or Honduras, at the expense of a spirited Syrian side that pushed them until the very end.
In fact, for six minutes inside Stadium Australia, it was Syria who were in the playoff position while Australia were calamitously staring elimination in the face. A poor turnover in the Socceroos' midfield turned into a lightening quick attack for Syria in the seventh minute.
The ball ended up at the feet of Omar Al Soma, the forward who scored Syria’s last-gasp penalty in the first leg, and he cooly finished another opportunity to wipeout the Socceroos' vital away goal and put Syria up 2-1 on aggregate.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) October 10, 2017
But only six minutes later, Australia were right back in it thanks to that man. Cahill, aged 37 and on his 103rd international appearance, turned home Mathew Leckie’s brilliant cross to level the tie.
What a ball from Leckie!
Live now on @FOXFOOTBALL 501 / @9Go!#AUSvSYR #GoSocceroos pic.twitter.com/CGCxq8QHwZ— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) October 10, 2017
The game was on a knife-edge. Syria were happy to sit back and defend knowing that one well-timed counterattack and a second away goal would probably see them through.
Australia controlled possession, completed three times as many passes as their opponents and troubled the Syrian goal more frequently, but they still struggled to create a decent chance while wrestling with the obvious danger of putting too many men forward to join the attack.
With the aggregate scoreline deadlocked at 2-2 at the end of 90 minutes, the drama of a penalty shootout seemed a real possibility. However, Syria’s defensive intensity was punished shortly after the restart for extra time with Mahmoud Al Mawas being shown a second yellow for a tackle on Leckie.
Syria were down to 10-men with 25 minutes still to play. With only 11 minutes to go before penalties, Cahill again came to Australia’s rescue with another header — his 50th international goal.
The moment! #AUSvSYR #GoSocceroos
@FOXFOOTBALL pic.twitter.com/S1OwNZAtiu— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) October 10, 2017
Miraculously, Syria almost grabbed a winner at the death.
Just inches away from causing heartbreak for the @Socceroos! #AUSvSYR #WCQ #9WWOS pic.twitter.com/mUjT6Bj8uf— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) October 10, 2017
But a free kick by Al Soma smashed against the upright in the game’s dying seconds, and Australia held on to set up a date with the Hexagonal’s fourth place finisher.