It’s official: the Socceroos are on their way to the 2014 World Cup after beating Iraq 1-0 last night.
It fell to sub Josh Kennedy to book Australia’s place in Brazil, their third straight World Cup, after 82 minutes without a goal. In his first appearance for the Socceroos in over 19 months after he suffered a serious back injury, Kennedy soared above the defence to head home a Mark Bresicano cross.
The Socceroo’s coach Holger Osieck had been booed by the crowd a few minutes earlier when he removed Australia’s golden boy, Tim Cahill, from play. But how swiftly a crowd can turn: as soon as Kennedy did what he does best – scoring goals from crosses – Osieck’s decision to sub Cahill was hailed as a masterstroke.
The win put the Socceroos in outright second place in group B, sparing the team from having to struggle through a play-off game later this year.
Iraq, bottom of the group table and with nothing to play for, sat deep and absorbed attack after attack by the Socceroos, who created a multitude of chances. A header from fullback Sasa Ognenovski in the 15th minute was evidence that Osieck wanted the early lead. Two opportunities fell to Cahill, a long-range shot that skewed wide and an acrobatic attempt from six metres, but neither troubled keeper Noor Sabri.
The second half saw more of the same but the Socceroos just couldn’t find the back of the net with their chances.
Osieck, looking for a way to break the Iraqi defence, introduced youngster Tom Rogic, whose urgency in attack had an immediate impact on the game, lifting the whole team.
The fans were left gutted 25 minutes from time when a Robbie Kruse volley was disallowed because Iranian referee Faghani Alireza had blown for a foul by Ognenovski in the lead-up.
Despair turned to shock when Cahill was pulled off to make way for Kennedy. But elation followed soon after when the striker scored probably the most important goal of his career. – Blake Moretti
Top photo: The Socceroos celebrate their victory. From Football Federation Australia’s website.