Win was all that mattered for Socceroos
IT was desperate, at times even ugly, but in the end the win was all that mattered as the Socceroos beat the UAE 2-0 in a crucial World Cup qualifying match at Allianz Stadium.
Jackson Irvine's goal in the opening 10 minutes of the game and Mathew Leckie's with 10 minutes remaining clinched maximum points for Australia. The win, on the back of four consecutive draws, means the Socceroos can still finish their group in the top two and claim an automatic qualification spot.
Coach Ange Postecoglou believes it was a strong performance from his team, though admits they could have been more clinical with their chances.
"We worked awfully hard and put them under a lot of pressure," he said. "Some of our football was bright, we just maintained that. I thought in the second half we totally overtook them and probably should've scored a couple more goals. I'm pleased for the players, they really stuck with the task and they get their rewards."
But the end result papers over just how hard the Socceroos had to fight for the win. There were times during the game when they hung on for dear life, but Australia boast a proud home record having never lost a qualifying match on home soil since 2008, and they did just enough to maintain that.
The Socceroos couldn't have hoped for a better start. A fabulous header from Irvine, rising to meet James Troisi's corner, took a deflection and slid past the goalkeeper into the bottom corner in just the seventh minute of the game. It was Irvine's first goal for the Socceroos and it should have settled some nerves out there, but the home side were far from convincing from that point.
The UAE came close to snatching an equaliser early in the second half, but some heroics from Maty Ryan saw him save Omar Abdulrahman's free kick that looked destined for the top corner.
It was just as well the Socceroos found an early lead, because as the first half progressed the same worrying signs began to creep into their game again.
First touches were poor and, Irvine's goal aside, there was just one shot on target and that was Mark Milligan's effort that sailed straight into the goalkeeper's arms. There were too many sloppy turnovers in the midfield, allowing the UAE to gain possession.
The Socceroos began the second half with a glimpse of the urgency they desperately needed, with Troisi and Mile Jedinak powering through the midfield. It didn't last long though, before Ryan was again called into action to thwart another effort from Abdulrahman. The visitors were enjoying their best period of play, with the Socceroos continuing to give the ball away cheaply and desperately missing the suspended Aaron Mooy.
Trent Sainsbury put in a crunching effort to stop the UAE on the edge of the area as the Socceroos desperately tried to absorb the pressure.
Finally, to the delight of the 27,328 fans at Allianz Stadium, it was Timmy time, Cahill given 20 minutes to try and settle the nerves once and for all. His presence immediately lifted the team and Troisi should have extended the Socceroos lead, but he skied his shot over the bar after a good cutback from Mathew Leckie.
Finally, the second goal came 10 minutes from time when Leckie turned in Troisi's cross with a well placed header. It was almost an exact replica of the first goal, with the Socceroos still at their most dangerous from set pieces.