Like a thief in the night, the Socceroos have fought back from a goal down to post a crucial 2-1 victory over Iraq and breath life into Australia’s World Cup dreams.
There was drama, there was concern, and then there was disaster. And then, like many key Socceroo matches, there was some elation provided by two of the old guard.
Best mates Tim Cahill and Archie Thompson popped up to nod home two quick-fire goals late in the match to put Australia in equal second spot in our World Cup qualifying group at the halfway point.
And to save a nation’s blushes.
The corner flag took the kind of pounding that Mike Tyson used to give out in his prime, and the Iraqis were crushed. With 10 minutes left in the match, they had held a 1-0 lead after a clinical goal scored on the break in the 72nd minute.
Heartbreak beckoned for the Socceroos.
But in stepped veterans Cahill and Thompson to resurrect the Socceroos and beleagured coach Holger Osieck with six minutes left.
This was a match that once again showed the fighting spirit and never-give-up attitude that personifies the Socceroos. It was a backs-against-the wall performance.
The Socceroos started promisingly, with Matt McKay at left back and no room for Mark Bresciano in the starting XI.
There was an early header chance to Alex Brosque, while Robbie Kruse and Cahill were lively in the opening exchanges. The first half finished 0-0, with Australia dominating possession but struggling to create clear-cut chances.
Iraq had threatened on the counter and they started the better in the second half.
Luke Wilkshire almost gave a penalty in the 49th minute, and then the Socceroos should have potted a goal after two good opportunities. Cahill laid off the ball for Jedinak, who blazed wide, and then McKay cut the ball back from Kruse who fired a wayward shot.
Lucas Neill was also a bit lucky not to receive a red card after tugging the shot of an Iraqi attacker on goal.
Australia would rue the missed opportunities when a poor pass led to the loss of the ball in midfield and a long ball caught us out.
Iraq finished easily to go 1-0 up and the dark clouds appeared.
Thompson then came on for Brosque and after that Tommy Oar made his way on the field for Kruse.
Both substitutes played a big part in the Socceroos revival.
After Cahill – yet again Australia’s hero – scored from a corner, ageless Archie made a fantastic run into the box. Oar, who had looked good with little time to show his wares, floated a beautiful cross in and Thompson rose to glance it home.
The EuroSport commentator stated that the Socceroos had stolen victory “from the jaws of the defeat”, and this wasn’t far off the truth.
Australia’s road to Brazil is on track, but only just. Neill and Valeri both picked up yellows and miss the next match.
The Socceroos have four matches to play, three of which are at home, and are on equal second points with Oman on 5. Japan top the group with 10 points.
Australia again struggled to create goal-scoring opportunities and to open up their opposition.
While Spiranovic was solid and McKay good in defence, Valeri and Jedinak as a pairing does not work in central midfield.
Both won a lot of ball, and in general, the Socceroos dominated possession. But they are far too defensive-minded and the final pass usually went missing.
For the next game, Ognenvoski will most probably come in at the back and either Bresciano or Holland in the middle.
Space should also be found for Oar.
He showed enough, with his skills and turn of pace, and he deserves more of an opportunity.
Australia’s lack of a real striker was again glaring. Brosque was ineffectual for long periods and Cahill, who always tried hard, has never been an out and out forward.
Thompson, who has now scored three goals from the past three games, showed the ability of a real goal-poacher, and shoved two fingers up those who had criticized him.
His form has backed up his selection and demonstrated the lack of goals in this Australian team – scoring three on each occasion in limited minutes off the bench.
The Socceroos remain a work in progress but they leave Qatar with their head’s held high and with all three points for the first time in this qualifying competition.
They might not have one foot on the plane to Brazil yet, more like four toes. But they have given the kiss of life to a stuttering campaign at a time when it was needed more than ever.