Cahill double saves Australia's day
Veteran's heroics against Syria keep Socceroos' World Cup hopes alive
|(Tim Cahill 13, 109)||(Omar Al Soma 6)|
- Australia advance 3-2 on aggregate
Australian football's most trusted servant once again came to the Socceroos' rescue yesterday, netting a brace in Sydney to help his side to a 2-1 win over Syria in a dramatic second leg of the Asian confederation play-offs for next year's World Cup.
Veteran striker Tim Cahill, 37, cancelled out Omar Al Soma's opener in the first half before he leapt to head in Australia's precious second goal in the 109th minute for the clincher.
After last week's 1-1 draw in Malaysia, where Syria play their home games owing to the ongoing conflict in the country, Australia won 3-2 on aggregate to reach a final play-off against the fourth-placed team from the Concacaf federation, currently Panama.
Cahill's double took his tally for his country to a record 50-goal mark.
A beaming Cahill told Fox Sports after his heroics: "This is what football is about. You have to write your own script.
"I knew I was going to score. It's not something you're overconfident about but you put yourself in the right position, it's like waiting for a bus.
"I didn't touch the ball much but I did my job, I kept the defenders back, made rooms for our 10s and, in the end, delivered. That's what I have done my whole life and I'll continue to do it."
A delighted Australia coach Ange Postecoglou paid tribute to the Melbourne City striker.
He told Fox Sports: "I said when he broke the 100 games that he's a great Australian sportsman, beyond our sport.
"He's got an international record that will stack up against the best in the world and he keeps doing it.
"I can't remember the last time he played 90 minutes and he's gone out there and played 120 minutes. He's got something about him for sure.
"You know these games throw up pressure and you're looking for people who have been through it before and know what it takes… (Cahill) was at the forefront of that."
And what better way to haul his country out of trouble than with a couple of his trademark headers.
Al Soma's sixth-minute opener had stunned more than 42,000 spectators into silence, as Syria seemed on course to continue with their fairy-tale run.
But in a scene that would have been familiar with English Premier League fans, former Everton midfielder Cahill drew the hosts level with a header soon after.
Australia looked the more dangerous of the two sides thereafter, but struggled to breach the visitors' defence.
However, Syria, who have never reached the World Cup, saw their hopes suffer a massive blow when Mahmoud Al Mawas was sent off for a second bookable offence in the fourth minute of extra-time.
As penalties beckoned, Robbie Kruse sent over a cross from the byeline and Cahill outjumped his marker to power another header past the diving Ibrahim Alma.
Asked what he told his team after 90 minutes were up, Postecoglou said: "I just told them to keep going. We were creating chances and we knew physically we always finish strong because the opposition have to work hard to stop us.
"They just had to keep going and have belief in what they are doing.
"They never wavered, they never questioned anything and kept believing in what they were doing and it paid off."
The win came as a huge morale boost to Australia, who paid the price for a lack of killer instinct during the group phase of qualifying.
They finished outside of the two automatic places in Group B, one point behind Japan and pipped to second spot by Saudi Arabia on goal difference. - WIRE SERVICES