Socceroos in the driver's seat to finish off Syria

ANALYSIS: Socceroos supporters would have every right to feel disappointed - even frustrated - with the outcome of Australia's 2018 FIFA World Cup play-off first leg against Syria.


Socceroos players celebrate their opener against Syria Source: Getty Images

After dominating the first hour of the match in neutral Malacca, the Socceroos ran out of steam and conceded a late equaliser that keeps the tie open.

However this is World Cup qualification and an away draw in a play-off situation is never something to sneer at, particularly if you get an away goal.

The 1-1 draw put the Socceroos in the box seat to win the tie when the two teams meet again in Sydney on Tuesday.


The Australians dominated the first part of the match and could have sealed the match and probably the tie after taking the lead in the first half through a poacher's goal from Robbie Kruse.

But the gallant Syrians were allowed to come back into the game by the wasteful and unfortunate Australians, who had several opportunities to increase their lead but were foiled by a mixture of rotten luck, poor finishing and inspired goalkeeping.

Ange Postecoglou's men have every reason to lament the concession of a late penalty to Syria that changed the course of the match although, in fairness, on the balance of play a draw was not an unfair result.

There appeared to be nothing wrong with Mathew Leckie's aerial challenge on Omar al-Soma that was deemed illegal. The same player converted the subsequent penalty emphatically.

Leckie was given a more advanced role for this crucial match and the Hertha Berlin man repaid Postecoglou's faith in him by producing the sort of eye-catching performance that we had been accustomed to.

He made Australia's goal when he ran well into space to receive a through ball from Milos Degenek, turned his man with consummate ease, cut inside in his now trademark move and fired a low shot across goal that was tapped in by Kruse.

Ironically, Leckie was involved in the penalty incident when he was forced to take up a wingback role after Josh Risdon ran out of legs and was replaced by striker Nikita Rukavytsya just after the hour mark.

Postecoglou was also amply rewarded for persevering with Kruse with an encouraging display from Bochum's striker.

Kruse, who is enjoying a new lease of life in Germany's second division, was full of running on and off the ball and his goal will give him the level of confidence he needs to start performing as well as we all know he can.

Luzern's Tomi Juric played a strong game too and how he did not find the net early in the second half when he hit the post twice in the space in a few seconds will remain a mystery.

The contribution of the front three starters who are in scoring form with their European clubs augurs well for the return and hopefully the final play-off against a team from CONCACAF in November.

Much of Australia's domination in the first part of the match stemmed from the cultured feet of playmaker Aaron Mooy, who stole the show with a series of immaculate passes into space that showed what a great player he is becoming.

The 27-year-old, who once was deemed surplus to requirements at Western Sydney Wanderers, can find a needle in a haystack and forwards must relish his peripheral vision and precise distribution.

Mooy runs the show for Australia and Postecoglou is guaranteed of a man who can provide his attackers with silver service seemingly without effort.

If all looked generally good and promising in the front third, not so can be said of Australia's defence which, not for the first time in this campaign, was caught napping with balls played behind the last line.

The Syrians got behind the Socceroos on a few occasions and on others goalkeeper Mat Ryan had to rescue his side with athletic interventions.

The Australians' defensive vulnerability that emerged soon after the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, regardless of formation or personnel, is becoming the team's major weakness and it could all end up in tears if it is not fixed.

Yet there were enough positive signs from the match in Malacca to suggest that the Socceroos will go into the return at Stadium Australia as hot favourites to win the tie.

The drawn result should ensure a strong partisan crowd and Postecoglou will be pleased to know that Stadium Australia pitch is expected to be in top condition for the match that will shape the Socceroos' destiny in this World Cup campaign. 

It's looking good for Australia.

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5 min read
Published 6 October 2017 at 6:24am
By Philip Micallef