Australia has sealed their qualification for next year’s football World Cup in Brazil with a heart-stopping 1-nil win against Iraq. The Socceroos left it late to give the sold-out crowd down the road at Homebush something to cheer about but a solitary headed goal from substitute Josh Kennedy was enough to see us through. The win guaranteed the Socceroos’ finished second in their Asia qualifying group and a place at a third consecutive World Cup.
Despite going into the match as strong favourites, the Iraqis have proved difficult opposition for the Aussies in the past. Some resolute defending from the away side along with the inclement weather ensuring the contest remained in the balance throughout.
While Iraq failed to generate any clear-cut chances in the opening exchanges, the Socceroos weren’t fairing much better inside the opposition goal-box. Central defenders Lucas Neil and Sasha Ognenovski formed an unlikely scoring option when they combined in the box, with the chance going just over the bar.
Our best chance in the first-half fell to Robbie Kruse when some good interchange passing found the winger unmarked on goal. Unfortunately the hero from our last game against Jordan spurned his effort straight at keeper. The sides going into the half locked at nil-all.
The intensity of the match clearly lifted in the second-half as our boys realised they were running out of time. However it took some inspired substitutions from coach Holger Osieck to break the dead-lock. With the match looking like it could remain scoreless Osieck replaced star forward Tim Cahill with Josh Kennedy- a player who hadn’t wore the national colours since 2011.
It seemed so simple in the end but a perfect cross from midfield stalwart Mark Bresciano found an unmarked Kennedy in the box on 83 minutes and he was able to head home what proved to be the winner. The crowd went into raptures as the Aussie bench cleared and celebrated with the team. Tim Cahill, who had been visibly unhappy about being replaced minutes earlier, embracing his coach in elation.
The rest as they say is history. The Aussies hung on to their lead until the final whistle, sparking celebrations similar to when John Aloisi buried that all important penalty to send us to the 2006 edition. This time Kennedy provided the highlight that will go down in our football folklore.
Speaking after the match the lanky forward beamed at the impact he was able to have on the match. “As frustrating as it was to be on the bench, waiting to get on, it seemed like destiny- my time to shine,” he said. While the skies might have still been pouring rain, shine he did!
In results elsewhere on the night, our packed clubhouse also enjoyed a thoroughly entertaining contest between Korea and Iran. While our Korean supporters were disappointed to see their national team go down 1-nil, the result meant both teams qualified from the other Asia group. This means they join Australia and Japan as the guaranteed Asia contingent for next year’s trip to Brazil.
So it was an enthralling night all round for patrons at SSC, a big thanks to everyone who made it down to be part of the great atmosphere. Be sure to look out for plenty more sporting events and you can be sure the staff are already practicing their samba for football’s showpiece event!