Australia’s world cup hopes head to Sydney after late Syria equaliser

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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169 Have your say

    In the opening moments, with Aziz Behich attempting to retrieve the ball to restart play quickly, the Syrian player holding it tumbled backward, as if struck on the bridge of the nose by the might of Thor’s Hammer.

    Minutes later, a lofted ball saw an unmolested Syrian attacker wilt and crumple to the cow turf, the weight of existence apparently causing him to keel and appeal. Clearly, with five minutes of the first leg elapsed, this was going to be a scruffy affair.

    The pitch turned making routine passes into highly tremulous actions, a loamy, soft, unpredictable slab that it was. Mark Milligan was victim of a scissoring tackle from behind, and Australia were made to scamper back frantically as Syria burst out on the counter. The demeanour of the match was as expected; Syria giving up possession, pressing only as the Australia passed well into their half, with runners locked and loaded to sprint at a half-second’s notice.

    Josh Risdon and Behich, two natural defenders, began at the wing-back positions, and Matt Jurman was inserted into the back-three, all players with natural, comfortable defensive inclinations. Mark Milligan and Aaron Mooy made up one of the more defensive-minded midfield pairings, of all the combinations available, and Tom Rogic began on the bench. This was a conservative approach from Postecoglou, away from home, under difficult circumstances.

    Matt Leckie, just before the half hour mark, skied a shot from inside the box. He has been scoring prolifically in Germany, but was found wanting here, gifted the first real chance of the match. Yes, it took half an hour for the first clear chance to emerge, save for Mark Milligan’s opportunistic shot from distance; the surface made coherence and clarity very difficult, with heavy touches and awful bobbles commonplace.

    Matthew Leckie

    Omar Al Soma, the towering Syrian striker, was seen straying into an offside position about a dozen times in the first half. This was more a result of the number and manner of lofted passes sent toward him, with very little terrestrial play for him to latch onto. In combination with Omar Khalbin, Al Soma almost fashioned the evening’s opening goal, with Khalbin turning Al Soma’s snapped cross wide at the near post.

    The Syrians were placing their defensive line a little higher than perhaps Australia had anticipated, and Australia were exploiting the space behind them, largely with longer passes rapped diagonally off the velveteen boot of Aaron Mooy.

    As it happened, it was Australia who took the lead, with Matt Leckie and Robbie Kruse combining in the Syrian penalty area. Leckie, restored finally to an advanced position, darted toward the byline on the right of the box, cut back sharply, and shot with purpose toward the far post. Kruse, also playing in the attacking midfield, turned the ball in lightly, barely hanging a toenail out to redirect the ball.

    It’s about time Leckie was returned to his natural habitat, and this was immediate justification. Leckie met a corner not long after, leaping and hanging gracefully in the air, but heading over. He is a remarkable athlete, whose attacking potency seems to be propped up primarily by confidence, more precisely his confidence in the knowledge that he’ll enjoy plentiful opportunities to make an attacking impression over the course of a match. Removing him from the unfamiliar, hazardous and scrutinised position of wing-back should be a permanent adjustment.

    Half time came with Syria having scratched out one-and-a-half chances, maybe, and Australia leading and firmly on top. Milligan was getting hacked to pieces, but was not wilting. Mooy had sent in some lovely lofted passes, and Kruse was making some elegant oblique runs, keeping the Syrian defence on edge. Australia had 60 per cent of the possession in the first half, and were passing as accurately as could be expected under the circumstances.

    Mahmoud Al Maowas struck the first shot in anger of the second half, with Mat Ryan beating the effort away well, down low to his left. A few minutes later, Tomi Juric managed to hit the post, then hit it again from the rebound, something I can’t remember seeing before. The match was opening up a little, to be sure. An Australian corner was taken short, and was quickly converted into a Syrian counter-attack, with Milos Degenek thwarting it in full flight, illegally, earning a booking.

    The Syrians seemed only capable of raising their intensity in fits and starts, with Australia negotiating the second half like a veteran surfer might a rolling set of truculent breakers, not panicking, easing the board through the swell. There were some worrying moments though; Degenek had to make an extremely important block, point blank, right in front of goal. Al Soma would have scored if not for it.

    A second Australian goal was needed, and Nikita Rukavytsya was brought on for Josh Risdon with that in mind. Matt Leckie was moved back into the right-wing-back spot, and immediately committed a poor foul deep in his own defensive third, beginning a spell of multiple Syrian set pieces, one after the other, all of which were launched with venom into the Socceroos’ penalty area.

    Mass Luongo was brought on for Kruse with 20 minutes to go, perhaps to try and impart a becalming hand over a contest tottering dizzily toward raggedness. Syria were forcing Australia into turnovers, playing with panting breath, buoyed by the whistles and shrieks of the crowd.

    Aaron Mooy Socceroos Australia Football 2017

    Firas Al Khatib, the Syrian legend, now 34, was brought on to add further oomph. Al Khatib didn’t take long to affect things; his driving run into the box ended in a cross struck from out of bounds, missed by the officials. Al Soma headed straight into Ryan from close range, and the ball spun away onto the post; it was the standout moment of an acutely uncomfortable period for Australia.

    Or at least it had been the standout moment until a penalty was awarded to Syria, with Leckie – a duck out of water contesting a defensive header in his own box – the apparent offender. Replays showed very minimal contact, perhaps an arm extended slightly, while contesting a header with the 6 ft 4 inch Al Soma, and it was the Syrian striker that lined up to take the spot kick. He crashed it high into the net, and it was 1-1 with five minutes to go. Australia were snorting at the decision, but for Syria it was the reward for a prolonged period of telling pressure.

    Sainsbury had a header batted away by Ibrahim Almeh, a fine reaction save. Time was slipping away, worth counting in seconds more than minutes. Mouaiad Al Ajjan, the left back, smashed in a swerving shot from distance that took a fully airborne Ryan to repel. Syria weren’t just content with the draw, they wanted to win. Suddenly, the fact Australia hadn’t made it out of their half for some time descended; the Roos had suffered a damaging late-game fade, both in vigour and invention.

    The match ended with Australia relieved to hear to final whistle. This was not the result Postecoglou would have wanted, another winless outcome away from home. Australia will be favourites in the second leg, armed with an away goal, but the Syrians’ stirring second-half performance will give them confidence they can pull off an upset.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

    There have been upsets aplenty in the World Cup so far, so be sure to check out our expert tips and predictions for South Korea vs Sweden, Belgium vs Panama and England vs Tunisia and get the good oil on who to tip tonight.

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    The Crowd Says (169)

    • October 6th 2017 @ 7:20am
      Waz said | October 6th 2017 @ 7:20am | ! Report

      It was actually going pretty well until half-time, the best 45 minutes for a long while. The warning signs were there early in the second half though and yet again we just slid in to long, pathetic passages of play.

      Was it or wasn’t it a penalty? My head and my heart are telling me different things – Leckie got his position wrong, and his jump. He should have been closer to the defender but ended up jumping at 45 degrees into the back of the attacker; yes the contact was minimal but reverse the roles, make Cahill the attacker, and I’d want a penalty.

      Sadly we’re just not good enough. That’s the only conclusion to draw. So it’s over to you Ange, what have you got left mate?

      • October 6th 2017 @ 10:54am
        RBBAnonymous said | October 6th 2017 @ 10:54am | ! Report

        I thought the penalty decision was harsh, but he should never have put himself in that situation in the first place. There was always a possibility for the ref to give a penalty, which of course he did.

        • October 6th 2017 @ 11:34am
          chris said | October 6th 2017 @ 11:34am | ! Report

          What position should he have not put himself into? He had to jump because the ball was there and a 6’4″ striker was about to get his head on it. It was a clean jump and no way a pen.
          The striker milked it for all it was worth and the ref, like a novice, fell for it.
          Good luck to the Syrian as I would have done the same. But Leckie was outstanding to have out jumped someone that much taller than himself.

          • October 6th 2017 @ 12:43pm
            RBBAnonymous said | October 6th 2017 @ 12:43pm | ! Report

            Firstly I don’t think it was a penalty, but at the same time I can see how the ref, who is very experienced, could award it. If you notice Leckie is not exactly goal side and so is out of position. When he does jump he jumps at a slight angle and not straight up. By doing so he nudges his arm ever so slightly against the back of the Syrian attacker. It is slight but as I mentioned he puts himself in a poor position leaving yourself open to a refereeing decision that will sometimes go against you.

            • October 6th 2017 @ 1:47pm
              Waz said | October 6th 2017 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

              Yeah. I get the debate – but I do the same thing with Roar when we get a dodgy decision against us and ask the question “if that was Roar being “fouled” in the box would I want the penalty” and the answer last night was yes, I would.

              Leckie got himself in the wrong position I agree, should have been closer and should have been goal side – instead he was a meter too far back and ended up jumping towards the ball and into the back of the attacker. So I can see why the ref gave it.

          • October 6th 2017 @ 2:04pm
            Caltex TEN & SBS support Australian Football said | October 6th 2017 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

            No penalty, Leckie leaped for the ball and he never used his hands or arms to push the Syrian out of the way—it was just two bodies making contact and that is all. What did everyone expect, a free header for the Syrian striker? that’s ridiculous.

            • October 6th 2017 @ 2:53pm
              Fadida said | October 6th 2017 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

              Leckie certainly did nothing wrong Caltex. It was soft though the ref to his credit was perfectly placed

    • October 6th 2017 @ 7:25am
      me too said | October 6th 2017 @ 7:25am | ! Report

      What was Ang thinking? An hour in and we’re a goal to the good. The Syrians are beginning to look very dangerous and exploiting us down the left flank. How about changing to a four man defence and nullify them. Instead we keep trying to attack and keep getting caught out. Reminiscent of our game against Thailand when we held a lead but were looking a bit shaky, he pulls off a defender and throws on an attacking mid? Does he have a plan b?

      • October 6th 2017 @ 7:33am
        Nick Symonds said | October 6th 2017 @ 7:33am | ! Report

        “Does he have a plan b?”

        Yeah, do plan A better.

        • October 6th 2017 @ 11:08am
          pauli said | October 6th 2017 @ 11:08am | ! Report

          I must say that while such approaches may work wonders in the A-League and perhaps did the job for the Asian Cup, international football is a much different beast. It does contrast sharply with Hiddink’s approach, where the team would discuss what to do in different scenarios – how to play when scores are level, when you go a goal down, when you take the lead etc.

      • October 6th 2017 @ 9:22am
        Fadida said | October 6th 2017 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        Exactly. Comments on the Roar’s live feed described this period as “a game of basketball” (me) with neither side having any midfield protection, both sides threatening to score with every attack. My favourite description was “pinball without the flippers”.

        It was amateurish. We have had one clean sheet in the last 13 games! The game could have been closed down at 1-0, but no, we were marauding forward, getting holes everywhere. Ange can’t organise a defensive, his in game management is terrible

        • October 6th 2017 @ 9:39am
          punter said | October 6th 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report

          We have seen so many times during this campaign, we dominate sides unable to score or at least enough then completely unable to close out lead or batten down the hatches when other teams get times of dominance to ride out the storm. Especially away from home you just cannot expect to dominate all game & we do not seem to have the ability to hold sides when get more of the ball, we still have this attack mentality & get caught out.

          • October 6th 2017 @ 9:56am
            Fadida said | October 6th 2017 @ 9:56am | ! Report

            Agree. And the blame for our ability to adapt to game situations and momentum lies with Ange

            • October 6th 2017 @ 10:24am
              punter said | October 6th 2017 @ 10:24am | ! Report

              One thing Fad though, being a 1/2 glass full sort of guy.
              If I said 1-1 draw before game would you have taken it?

              • October 6th 2017 @ 11:14am
                Fadida said | October 6th 2017 @ 11:14am | ! Report

                I’m usually a glass half full kind too Punter. It’s hard to be optimistic when you look at the big picture. We have had one excellent 90 minute performance in the last 18 months. The rest have been similar to last night; periods of dominance producing few chances until the opposition adapt their game (Syria started to press us last night and we gave the ball away continuously, ramping up the pressure). The last half hour is then basketball, or pinball, with us hanging on for grim death, huge spaces all over the place. Ange never identified or corrects the obvious issues.

                Even if we get through this leg, and it is an “if” , better sides will exploit us, and badly. Ange may be forging his own path but at best he’ll up with a road to nowhere.

                Would I have taken 1-1? Quite frankly the scoreline was pretty likely. We lack potency in front of goal and we aren’t going to keep a clean sheet, Ange doesn’t know how structure the back 3rd.

            • October 6th 2017 @ 3:28pm
              Alex said | October 6th 2017 @ 3:28pm | ! Report

              Call him imPosterNOclue.

              He doesn’t deserve the honor of being called Ange.

    • October 6th 2017 @ 7:39am
      Onside said | October 6th 2017 @ 7:39am | ! Report

      W C Feilds said, ‘never give a sucker an even break’. Australia never adapt as circumstances dictate,
      refuse to protect a winning lead or simply make it harder for the opposition (back 3), and are always
      prepared to give suckers a chance, an even break.

      • October 6th 2017 @ 9:23am
        Fadida said | October 6th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

        Spot on. Plan A and nothing else

    • October 6th 2017 @ 7:53am
      Phil of Sydney said | October 6th 2017 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      Australia were looking good in the early stages of the game but faded as the game went on. Robbie Kruse looked like a kid running around and trying hard but not getting a whole lot done. Yes I know he scored but it was probably going in anyway.

      A positive is a victory in Sydney would ensure we get another two international matches next month!

      Somebody must have had money on how many times Mark Milligan could be hacked down in a game.

      • October 6th 2017 @ 8:58am
        Curious George said | October 6th 2017 @ 8:58am | ! Report

        Kruse is another player who has had his time.

        Along with Tiny Timmy

    • October 6th 2017 @ 8:08am
      striker said | October 6th 2017 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      We have no idea how to create chances apart from Aaron Mooy and Leckie, the rest of the players are average at best, any other decent opponents would have burried us this morning,Ange is losing it big time the team has no confidence.

      • October 6th 2017 @ 8:57am
        Curious George said | October 6th 2017 @ 8:57am | ! Report

        Striker: Ange has to go

        Bring in a European coach to make em play like the Bundesliga for example

        Ange is a bloated buffoon who has had his time.

        We are currently going back to the 1980s where football had no place in Australia.

        Even a Swedish a-grade side would have beaten us last night. Millions spent on developing players here whilst Syria put all theri money elsehwere (you know what im talking baout) and we only scrape a draw


        • October 6th 2017 @ 9:31am
          punter said | October 6th 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

          It would help if you actually knew what you were talking about.

        • October 6th 2017 @ 9:36am
          chris said | October 6th 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

          What do you mean “play like the Bundesliga?”

          • October 6th 2017 @ 12:30pm
            Gavin R said | October 6th 2017 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

            We should play like Argentina. They score plenty of goals. Or World Cup 2014 Semi Final Germany

            • October 6th 2017 @ 1:11pm
              chris said | October 6th 2017 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

              hmm are you being sarcastic? Argentina have scored 16 goals in 17 wc qualifiers so far.
              Look at their strike power and you think we have problems.

        • October 6th 2017 @ 11:10am
          pauli said | October 6th 2017 @ 11:10am | ! Report

          Millions spent on developing players?

          If only that were so….

    • October 6th 2017 @ 8:45am
      Jack said | October 6th 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      If it’s nil all at 90 on Tuesday we qualify?

      If so then Syria will have to play leaving them badly exposed on a fast pitch?

      • October 6th 2017 @ 8:55am
        Curious George said | October 6th 2017 @ 8:55am | ! Report

        Jack, if it is 0-0 then AUS goes through as the away goal they scored with worth 2

        Simples 🙂

        • October 6th 2017 @ 9:30am
          punter said | October 6th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

          Away goals are not worth 2!!!!

          • October 6th 2017 @ 9:39am
            chris said | October 6th 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report

            lol…come on punter! Scoring 3 goals away doesnt mean you have scored 6 goals – you are right.
            But they do count for more if its to break an aggregate score line that are identical.

            • October 6th 2017 @ 9:41am
              punter said | October 6th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

              YES!!! I did say they are NOT worth 2 goals.

              • October 6th 2017 @ 10:03am
                chris said | October 6th 2017 @ 10:03am | ! Report

                Agreed! : )

        • Roar Rookie

          October 6th 2017 @ 10:49am
          At work said | October 6th 2017 @ 10:49am | ! Report

          Problem is that with the way we’re set up there’s almost no chance of us not conceding a goal, so us getting an away goal but not winning is almost inconsequential.
          All I’ll say is lucky this isn’t at the MCG, since we were in a similar position 2 decades ago and I couldn’t handle those bad omens

          • October 6th 2017 @ 11:19am
            Fadida said | October 6th 2017 @ 11:19am | ! Report

            Agree at work. Conceding that goal is crucial. Baffling as to why Ange didn’t close the game down

            • October 6th 2017 @ 11:38am
              Sydneysider said | October 6th 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

              “We have had one clean sheet in the last 13 games!”

              That is a disgraceful statistic.

              No faith in us getting a result next Tuesday. Ange is finished anyway. Will be interesting to see what coaching job he can snag in Asia because he definitely won’t be getting a coach gig in Europe.

              • October 6th 2017 @ 3:53pm
                Alex said | October 6th 2017 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

                If we don’t qualify, imPosterNOclue’s gambling career is finished, over, kapute, terminated, ended in shame!

                Noone and I repeat N-O-O-N-E will employ this buffoon!

                His unwarranted coaching reputation as a knowledgeable and successful coach will have been ruined beyond repair, once and for all.

                Good riddance to bad rubbish.

              • October 6th 2017 @ 4:09pm
                Fadida said | October 6th 2017 @ 4:09pm | ! Report

                A bit overboard. Ange was great at the Roar, good at MV and up until the last 18 months an excellent NT manager. Only he can explain what is going on in his head recently

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