Football

Australia pay the penalty

All to play for in second leg as Syria give themselves fighting chance with equaliser

REGIONAL PLAY-OFFS, 1ST LEG
SYRIA AUSTRALIA
1 1
(Omar Al Soma 84-pen) (Robbie Kruse 40)

Omar Al Soma buried a late penalty as war-torn Syria drew 1-1 with Australia in Melaka, Malaysia, yesterday to put their two-legged World Cup play-off on a knife-edge.

Australia were within sight of victory after Robbie Kruse's first-half goal but, when Mathew Leckie nudged Soma on 84 minutes, the towering forward made no mistake from the spot.

It sets up a nerve-racking second leg in Sydney next Tuesday, with the eventual winners going into another play-off with a Concacaf team for a spot at Russia 2018.

Syria, playing their "home" games in Malaysia because of the civil war raging in their country, are pursuing their dream of qualifying for their first World Cup, while Asian champions Australia are trying to reach their fourth in a row.

Both teams made a cagey start in front of a sparse but Syrian-dominated crowd in sultry conditions at the Hang Jebat Stadium, a low-key setting for such an important game.

Mark Milligan's fizzing shot with the outside of his left boot tested Mahmoud Al Youssef on 19 minutes, while Soma provided Syria's chief threat at the other end.

Leckie blasted over on 29 minutes before Soma twice set up Omar Khribin for opportunities that the in-form Al Hilal striker put wide of the Australian goal.

Five minutes before half-time, Leckie created Australia's opener when he received a ball down the right from Milos Degenek, cut inside and arrowed a shot which went in off the boot of Kruse.

UNLUCKY

After the break, Tomi Juric was unlucky to see his shot come back off the woodwork - and even unluckier when, bizarrely, he crashed the rebound off the same post.

We’re looking forward to doing it front of our home fans. They will give us a huge lift. Australia defender Aziz Behich believes they can finish the job in next Tuesday’s second leg in Sydney

But Syria were looking dangerous and Khribin had a shot blocked by Leckie, before Soma headed a good chance over and was then denied an almost certain goal by Degenek's last-ditch lunge.

As the game headed into the final quarter, Ouday Jaffal had a close-range free-kick cleared off the line and Khribin's deflected set-piece sailed just wide.

Syria should have been level on 78 minutes but Soma's point-blank header was deflected onto the post in a reflex stop by Socceroos goalkeeper Mathew Ryan. The critical moment came with six minutes left, when Leckie made contact with Soma in mid-air and Iranian referee Alireza Faghani pointed to the spot.

We’re very confident. We will go home and get them on a good pitch in front of our home fans. Australia midfielder Mark Milligan

In the dying moments, Trent Sainsbury had a close-range header saved and Ryan clawed away a Moayad Al Ajan shot, but they shared the spoils to set up next Tuesday's tense decider in Sydney. - AFP

World CupAustraliaSyria