Tim Cahill came off the bench to score with only his second touch as Australia edged the United Arab Emirates 1-0 in 2018 World Cup qualifying yesterday.
The 36-year-old, who replaced Tomi Juric in the 71st minute, took only four minutes to ensure Australia’s second win in five days in Group B of Asian qualifying.
The goal came when a fine build-up saw Brad Smith freed on the left flank and the Bournemouth winger whipped an excellent ball into the area for Cahill to convert.
The result followed a 2-0 home triumph over Iraq last Thursday and gives Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos a solid foundation to stay on course for yet another appearance in the World Cup.
They are level with Saudi Arabia at the top of the group with a maximum six points.
CHINA EKE OUT DRAW
Earlier in the day China’s World Cup hopes brightened when they held heavyweights Iran 0-0 and group rivals South Korea slipped up in an embarrassing stalemate against war-ravaged Syria.
Defeat to Asia’s top-ranked side would have dented China’s hopes of reaching only their second World Cup but in the end it was a close game in Shenyang.
China’s point, their first of Asia’s final qualifying round, keeps them in touch with the leaders in six-team Group A, where the top two will win an automatic spot at Russia 2018.
Their cause was also helped by South Korea’s travails in Malaysia, Syria’s temporary ‘home’ base, as they missed out on what had seemed like a certain three points.
Elsewhere Japan got back on track with a 2-0 victory over Thailand which helped erase bad memories of last week’s controversial 2-1 upset against United Arab Emirates.
Defeat to Carlos Queiroz’s team would have slashed China’s odds of reaching the World Cup but they are now three points back from Iran and South Korea in fourth spot.
In Bangkok, Takuma Asano bounced back from last week’s disallowed goal controversy as he hit Japan’s second in the 2-0 win over Thailand which ignited their qualifying bid.
Asano was denied a clear goal in Thursday’s 2-1 defeat to UAE when officials failed to see his shot had crossed the line, but there was no doubt when he scored in Bangkok.
After Genki Haraguchi’s first-half opener, Asano squeezed his shot under goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan to give Japan a two-goal cushion on 75 minutes.
Elsewhere two late penalties from Nawaf Al Abed consigned Iraq to a 2-1 defeat and badly damaged their World Cup qualifying hopes.
Iraq, also playing in Malaysia because of conflict at home, were 1-0 up with nine minutes to play before Abed buried spot-kicks in the 81st and 87th minutes.
Abed struck in similar fashion last week when his 84th-minute penalty consigned Thailand to a 1-0 defeat in the opening round of games.
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