Cahill's freakish exploits disguise Socceroos' malaise

ANALYSIS: Cometh the hour, cometh the postman ... and that footballing freak Tim Cahill delivered once again. Big time.


Tim Cahill celebrates one of his two goals Source: Getty Images AsiaPac

Cahill came to Australia's rescue in a tight 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Syria with a goalscoring performance that proved, despite his ageing legs and advancing years, he remains the greatest Socceroos player of all time.

He may not be Australia's finest player but no other man has done so much for so long for the green and gold.

Two trademark headers gave him a total of 50 goals for his country and enabled the Socceroos to register a 2-1 victory over the gallant Syrians to remain on course for a fourth straight participation in a World Cup.

Coach Ange Postecoglou later described his talisman as a "freak" and "a unique, extraordinary individual".

Next up for Australia is an intercontinental home-and-away play-off in November against the fourth team from CONCACAF, which is expected to be Panama or Honduras. Win that tie and Australia are in Russia.

As is their way, the Socceroos are making a meal of their attempt to reach the finals.

They failed to win one of the two automatic spots from their group after losing their way midway through the campaign. They took the lead in the first leg of the play-off with Syria in Malaysia last week but they let the opposition off the hook by allowing them back into the game. The underdogs from the war-torn country duly obliged by snatching a late equaliser.

Australia went into the return leg at home with clear attacking intentions but were caught out after only a few minutes with a through ball down the middle to Omar Al Soma who finished off the move with aplomb.

It was the type of goal Australia have conceded several times in this campaign, but worryingly this issue has yet to be resolved.

The Socceroos and most of the 42,000 crowd - Syria had at least 4000 noisy supporters at the match - were visibly shaken but they were fortunate to level the terms almost immediately when Mathew Leckie served Cahill with an immaculate cross that the Melbourne City star converted powerfully. The cross was so perfect he probably would have scored with his eyes closed. 

The Socceroos huffed and puffed for the remainder of the match but could not break Syria's resolve until another firm header by Cahill from a tantalising cross by Robbie Kruse settled the tie in extra-time.

Cahill, who at 37 is well past his peak, has been rescuing the Australian team from sticky situations ever since he made his debut in March 2004. His goalscoring exploits all over the world are numerous.

A hundred and three international matches later he is still banging them in and his memorable brace against the Syrians saved the Australians from a humbling and damaging elimination from the World Cup.

Where Australian football would be without Cahill's input and influence is anybody's guess.

Contrary to what some would have us believe, Syria appeared to be a very ordinary side that fought bravely and without any inhibitions against all the odds and superior opponents to offset their limitations. They certainly are no Japan, Korea Republic or Iran and they were able to stay in the tie for so long only because of the Socceroos' overall shortcomings.

The Australians kept the ball for long periods and at times peppered the Syrian goal with shots and headers from all angles but their movement off the ball was generally slow, their passing was too lateral and elaborate and, perhaps most importantly, their crossing from both sides of the pitch was very disappointing.

It could so easily have finished at 2-2 but thankfully a free kick from Al Soma in the dying seconds of extra time hit the outside of the post with Mat Ryan beaten. "I did not touch the ball and I'm not sure if I had it completely covered or not," he admitted later. 

It was a far from convincing performance yet the Socceroos did not steal anything by their narrow victory. They never stopped trying and were the better and more positive team over the two legs and - let's not forget - Syria's goal in Malaysia came from a penalty that never was.

The problem is that Panama or Honduras will be tougher to beat than the modest Syrians and on this premise Ange Postecoglou's men will have to play at a faster tempo and more directly and be more careful at the back if they are to prevail. In other words they have to lift their game.

The Socceroos will play the first leg away which is an advantage but they will be without midfielder Mark Milligan and winger Leckie, who are both suspended for one match after picking up yellow cards.

Leckie in particular will be missed because he is playing extremely well at the moment and he seems to have found his niche in the national colours. His confidence is up too after a blistering start to the Bundesliga season with his new club Hertha Berlin.

On the evidence of the tie against Syria, the Socceroos have several problems across the park and they face an extremely tough assignment against the Panamanians or Hondurans.

But the drive, character and temperament of this side should never be underestimated. They continue to prove it again and again. 

They will give it their best shot and if all else fails, there's always Tim Cahill.

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5 min read
Published 11 October 2017 at 6:00am
By Philip Micallef