The Socceroos have taken a major step towards qualifying for the 2018 Russia World Cup by defeating Saudi Arabia 3-2 in Adelaide on Thursday night. It was a difficult match for the Socceroos against a difficult opponent. The performance may have left a lot to be desired. But what mattered in the end of course were the three precious points and denying their closest rival for the automatic qualification place, any points.
The Green Falcons really tested the Socceroos showing up the home team’s strengths and weaknesses. The strengths included the excellent finishing of the two Tommies, Juric and Rogic, whose goals enabled the Socceroos to take the lead on three occasions. Another strength was the quality of Aaron Mooy on the ball, which became more evident in the second half. And finally, the physical strength and condition of the Socceroos which enabled them to finish the stronger of the two sides. The Saudis faded in the second half after having the better of the first half.
The weakness of this Australian side was their sloppiness in possession and in their passing: something which would have frustrated coach Postecoglou in the first half. By comparison, the Saudis looked razor sharp in the first half and incisive with their passing.
Despite Saudi keeper Yasser Al Mosaileu gifting Australian striker Tomi Juric with an opening goal in the sixth minute, the Saudis seemed to settle much more quickly and when they equalised with an incisive wall pass through Salem Al Dawsari in the 22nd minute, they looked far more threatening than the Socceroos. So much so that when Juric scored his second by heading a Matthew Leckie cross in the 36th minute, coach Postecoglou was visibly relieved. However the Saudis again deservedly equalised in first half injury time through central striker Mohammed Al Sahlawi.
In the second half, coach Postecoglou replaced Brad Smith with Aziz Behich on the left side of midfield and Behich began to combine with Rogic in gaining forward ground. Robbie Kruse replaced the misfiring Irvine who appeared off the pace. The Socceroos found a winner in spectacular fashion from the left foot of Tom Rogic when his 25-metre thunderbolt brought the crowd to its feet in the 64th minute.
Leckie was unlucky not to receive a penalty call in his favour when he was bundled over in the box, as Australia surged forward. Juric missed a chance to score a hat-trick before being replaced by Massimo Luongo. Australia was able to hold onto its lead against a tiring opponent, and take the three crucial points.