Mon, Jul 09, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Late, late goal earns Socceroos point

JUST IN TIME A goal by Badar Mubarak left Australian fans to endure a nail-biting finish before Tim Cahill saved the day for the much-fancied package from Down Under

AGENCIES , BANGKOKREUTERS, HANOI

PHOTO: REUTERS

Tim Cahill's injury-time goal in his first match in four months salvaged a 1-1 draw for Australia on their Asian Cup debut against Oman yesterday.

Badar Mubarak's first-half strike looked like souring the high-profile Socceroos' first taste of Asian Cup competition until Cahill's late equalizer.

Featuring Newcastle striker Mark Viduka, Liverpool winger Harry Kewell and Everton's Cahill amid a host of Europe-based stars, Australia came into the tournament as favorites despite being in the continental championship for the first time.

Instead Oman, who are 26 places below Australia in the world rankings, held onto a 1-0 lead for almost an hour until Cahill's last-gasp equalizer.

The Group A standings are now even, with all four teams on one point after the tournament opening 1-1 draw between Thailand and Iraq on Saturday night.

Oman's goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, was strong at the back, handling a dangerous free kick five minutes from time and a shot from Mark Bresciano at the end of the first half.

But he parried another shot from Bresciano and Cahill swooped, firing a shot to the 'keeper's right.

Determined defense from Oman's back four kept Australia's highly-experienced attack scoreless until seconds into injury time.

Unlike the monsoonal deluge that preceded the tournament opener the previous evening, yesterday's match kicked off in 34oC heat with 52 percent humidity.

Kewell, making his first starting appearance since the World Cup, partnered Viduka up front and had a scoring chance in the first half.

He ran wide of the Omani defenders to meet a Luke Wilkshire free-kick in the 22nd minute but failed to control his touch and skewed the ball across the goal.

Oman converted their best chance after Imad Ali crossed from the right to Mubarak, who drove a right-foot shot just beyond Mark Schwarzer.

The Omani team massed in the corner, got to their knees and bowed to celebrate -- directly in front of a band of Australian fans wearing yellow shirts.

Schwarzer made a difficult save to keep the margin at one when Ahmed Mubarak launched a powerful shot from the edge of the area in the 50th minute.

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, sensing the need for a gamebreaker, sent Cahill on in the 62nd minute and opportunities started surfacing.

John Aloisi's header just went over the bar before Schwarzer again had made a save to keep Australia in it as Imad Ali shot from close range.

The Australians became increasingly desperate in attack but the Omanis countered, with Schwarzer having to make another save from a close range effort from Fawzi Bashir in the 78th minute.

Co-hosts Vietnam beat United Arab Emirates 2-0 with a pair of lightening second-half strikes in their Asian Cup Group B opener yesterday.

Goals from defender Huynh Quang Thanh and striker Le Cong Vinh sparked wild celebrations for the home side, who are making their first appearance in the finals since 1960.

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