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Sydney: Not for the first time Australia’s inspirational veteran Tim Cahill rose to the fore for his nation to lead Australia past Syria and into the FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia Inter-Continental Play-off.

However, while Cahill’s contribution was key, the Socceroos’ victory at Stadium Australia came about due to a number of factors.

Joy on The Wings

Coach Ange Postecoglou opted to field Brad Smith as a left wingback, leaving out Aaron Mooy, one of the top performers in the first leg, but he was forced to bring back the playmaker after Smith suffered an injury inside the first 11 minutes.

After the introduction of Mooy, Robbie Kruse was moved to the left flank where he constantly found space behind Syria’s right-back Fahd Youssef, despite falling for the off-side trap on three occasions. Matthew Leckie successfully performed a similar role on the right and between them, the Australian wingbacks completed seven successful crosses and assisted a goal each for Tim Cahill.

Al Soma Isolated

In the absence of suspended Omar Kharbin, his namesake Omar Al Soma lead the Syrian line alone, and he showed what he is capable of by firing home an early goal after Tamer Haj Mohamed released him on the counter. But for the remaining 114 minutes, he only had one shot from open play and had to wait until the last second of the game to get close to scoring when his free-kick effort was denied by the post.

It was only after Firas Al Khatib was introduced at the hour mark that the Syrian midfield was able to find Al Soma with more regularity. The duo exchanged five passes, four of which came in Australia’s half of the pitch.

Vital Veteran Cahill

Tim Cahill was selected to start ahead of Tomi Juric for the second leg and the 37-year-old emphatically justified his inclusion, scoring both goals and keeping the Syrian defence busy throughout.

Cahill offers a different interpretation to the lone striker role. Instead of leading the line, he drops deeper, pulling opponent defenders out of positions and creating space for teammates to move into.

James Troisi and Tomas Rogic were the main beneficiaries of Cahill’s inclusion, both taking up higher positions up the field than the captain and taking two shots on target from inside the box each.

Cahill’s ability to lose his marker was equally crucial as he got on the end of two crosses, one from each flank, to score two headers that were ultimately the difference as Australia advanced to face Honduras in the Inter-Continental Play-off.


Photos: Lagardère Sports