A spectacular long-range strike from Tom Rogic yesterday delivered Australia a crucial 3-2 win over Saudi Arabia to stay on track for next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The stylish midfielder reprised his match-winning exploits for Celtic in last month’s Scottish Football Association Challenge Cup final when he scored the winner in the 64th minute.
The Australians joined Japan and Saudi Arabia at the top of Asia Group B with their vital win after twice relinquishing the lead to skillful Saudi Arabia in Adelaide.
The Socceroos, who have qualified for the past three editions of the World Cup, now face a huge game against Japan in Saitama, Japan, on Aug. 31.
“We made it a little difficult for ourselves in the first half, but we showed our quality and limited their chances in the second half and went on for the win,” Rogic said. “I thought the goal was coming. We started to get on top in the second half and I just wanted to get the boys on the right way and to get the win which was the most important thing.”
Swiss-based striker Tomi Juric twice gave the Socceroos the lead in the first half, but both times Saudi Arabia fought back to be level at 2-2 at halftime.
The Socceroos were given a gift-wrapped opener when goalkeeper Yasser al-Mosailem slipped and his clearing kick went straight to Juric, who found the empty net after seven minutes.
However, Saudi Arabia threatened with their slick passing and running off the ball and equalized through Salem al-Dawsari, who finished well off a neat give-and-go with Mohammed al-Sahlawi in the 23rd minute.
Australia could hardly string a pass together, but somehow regained the lead with Juric’s second goal off a flicked header from James Leckie’s cross from the byline.
However, Saudi Arabia rocked the home side with another equalizer deep in first-half stoppage time, when Taiseer al-Jassam’s controlled header across the goal was fired home by al-Sahlawi.
Australia coach Ange Postecoglou reacted by putting in Aziz Behich for leftback Brad Smith at the start of the second half.
Robbie Kruse replaced Jackson Irvine just before Australia grabbed the lead for a third time with Rogic’s scintillating, left-foot pile driver on 64 minutes.
Australia had a big shout for a penalty when Salman al-Faraj appeared to take out Leckie in the goal area, but it was waved away by the referee.
The Socceroos controlled the second half and protected their lead to the final whistle.
The top two teams in the group are to progress to Russia 2018, with the third-placed nation forced into playoffs.
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