Australia edge Syria 1-0 to reach Asian Cup knockouts

Australia edge Syria 1-0 to reach Asian Cup knockouts By A Robin - January 21, 2024
AFC Asian Cup

AFC Asian Cup

Australia followed hosts and holders Qatar into the last 16 of the Asian Cup with a 1-0 victory over Syria on Thursday.

Jackson Irvine scored the winner on the hour with his second goal of the tournament, swivelling in the box before poking the ball through the legs of goalkeeper Ahmad Madanieh.

Graham Arnold's Socceroos are into the knockouts with a group game to spare but will have to play better than this if they are to lift the Asian Cup for a second time.

India play Uzbekistan in the same group later in the day.

Syria nearly went ahead inside five minutes when striker Pablo Sabbag pinged the ball off the foot of Australia's post.

Sabbag was left bloodied in the face midway through the half after a stray forearm by Aiden O'Neill, and the midfielder was booked.

But Australia, who reached the last 16 of the Qatar World Cup before a 2-1 defeat to eventual champions Argentina, were by now in control.

Arnold criticised his side for failing to make more of their set-pieces in their 2-0 opening win over India, and 10 minutes before the break Australia nearly went ahead from a corner.

Defender Gethin Jones won the ball with a looping header and midfielder Irvine -- who scored in the India victory -- just failed to reach the ball on the stretch at the far post.

Ranked 91 in the world to Australia's 25, Syria were hardly in it as an attacking force at the compact Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, despite the best efforts of their fanatical supporters.

Hector Cuper's men, who drew 0-0 with Uzbekistan, came to life at the end of the first half.

Winger Ammar Ramadan was a constant threat and dragged a snapshot wide, ruffling the side-netting. A Sabbag attempt from outside the box curled over.
Arnold trudged down the tunnel for half-time with a shake of the head.

By the 57th minute he had seen enough and made a triple change, throwing on the attacking midfielders Riley McGree and Samuel Silvera, plus midfielder Keanu Baccus.

It did the trick and three minutes later Australia took the lead through Germany-based midfielder Irvine.

They were mostly comfortable after that, but there was nearly embarrassment for goalkeeper Maty Ryan when he spilled a tame effort from distance in the 67th minute, scrambling back to claw the ball off his goal-line.

The final round of matches in Group B is on Tuesday, when Australia play Uzbekistan and India face Syria.

By A Robin - January 21, 2024

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