FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Asian Qualifiers: Stats Wrap
Kuala Lumpur: In keeping with Asia’s FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, the second leg of the Continental Play-off between Australia and Syria was full of drama as the Socceroos finally ended the Qasioun Eagles’ Road to Russia following a 3-2 aggregate victory after extra-time.
The 2-1 win on the night means Australia can now look ahead to an Inter-Continental showdown with Honduras next month, while we look back at the key stats and facts from the final fixture in the continent's qualifiers.
Fifty not out
At 37, Tim Cahill is no longer guaranteed a place in Australia’s starting line-up, yet his value to the squad remains undisputable.
Recalled to the first 11 after being an unused substitute in Melaka, Cahill’s two goals – his 49th and 50th for the Socceroos – were headed home in typical fashion to ensure the attacking midfielder’s bid for a fourth successive FIFA World Cup remains on course.
The Al Soma effect
Omar Al Soma’s opening goal was his third in as many games, a feat bettered only by Japan’s Genki Haraguchi’s four in a row and matched by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Mehdi Taremi.
Crucial strikes against Iran and Australia is evidence the striker does not shirk the big occasion, and begs the question of what might have been had the Al Ahli man been available throughout the campaign.
Australia dominated proceedings throughout, so much so that their just over 76 percent of possession was the highest recorded by any team since the onset of the third round of qualifying.
Mark Milligan said post-match that the Socceroos’ winner – one of 18 attempts on goal – was “only a matter of time” and the midfielder was right as weary Syrian legs eventually succumbed to Cahill’s 109th-minute effort.
Both of Cahill’s goals came from pinpoint deliveries into the box, the first a sublime centre from Mathew Leckie, the second a lofted ball from Robbie Kruse.
In total, the Socceroos sent in 30 crosses from open play with Aaron Mooy’s nine just ahead of Kruse’s eight and Leckie’s seven as Australia racked up the second highest tally of the campaign.
Reversing the trend
When Al Soma’s clinical left-foot finish rippled the back of the net, it was the fifth time Australia had fallen behind since the third round of qualifying began.
On three occasions the Socceroos managed to fight back to claim draws while another, against Japan, resulted in their only defeat in Group B.
Cahill’s late winner, therefore, secured their only come-from-behind victory in what was their most important fixture.
Conversely, Syria’s opening goal was the sixth time they had taken the lead, but the eventual 2-1 loss was the only defeat suffered after going in front.
Two of those games resulted in 2-2 draws after the West Asians fell behind yet salvaged a point in stoppage-time and, had Al Soma’s free-kick deep into extra-time not struck the post and bounced out to safety, the same result would have seen Syria advance at the expense of the Socceroos.
Neither side had seen a player red carded since the third round of qualifying began, while Australia’s four bookings in the first leg and three in the second exceeded any game that had gone before.
Mahmoud Al Mawas’s foul on Kruse in extra-time earned the midfielder a second yellow and his marching orders.
Thanks for the memories
Syria’s qualifying campaign has attracted global headlines with a win in China, a last-gasp equaliser in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Al Soma’s late penalty in the first leg among many magical moments.
The Qasioun Eagles were the width of a post away from adding another but, although they ultimately exited, it has been an incredible journey that will live long in the memory.
Photos: Lagardère Sports