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Australia ecstasy as Syria’s World Cup odyssey falls inches short

Tim Cahill double wins the day for Socceroos, leaving Omar Al Somah and his team-mates in tears. By Paul Williams.

Agony and ecstasy.

They are the two emotions being felt by Syrian and Australians fans right now after a pulsating second leg of their World Cup playoff in Sydney tonight.

Omar Al Somah, who was his nation’s hero against Iran with a 93rd minute equaliser to get Syria to this point, was very nearly again his nation’s saviour in the 93rd minute at ANZ Stadium.

For a tie that lasted the full 210 minutes, there is one single moment that will be relived over and over again. With time almost up and Australia leading 2-1 on the night, and 3-2 on aggregate, Syria were awarded one last chance with a free kick 25 yards out from goal.

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Two nations held their collective breaths as Al Somah stood over the ball. All or nothing.

As he struck the ball as sweetly as he could, the wall was beaten. Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan stretched valiantly to his left, searching for every last millimetre to try and get his hands on the ball. He couldn’t. He was beaten.

Then came the thud. Agony for Syria, ecstasy for Australia.

As the ball cannoned off the post, echoing out into the half-filled ANZ Stadium, Syria’s World Cup dream came to heartbreaking end. So close and yet so far has never seemed so fitting.

As Syrian players slumped to the turf, tears flowing, there were tears of a different kind for those in green and gold.

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Australia, the reigning AFC Asian Cup winners, have made hard work of this qualifying campaign so it seemed only fitting that the match would go into extra time, providing extra torment for those inside the ground and those watching at home on TV.

Australia’s hero, as he so often is on occasions like this, was none other than the evergreen Tim Cahill.

Eyebrows were raised pre-match when the 37-year-old was named in the starting eleven to replace Tomi Juric. But if there is ever a man for the big occasion it is Cahill, who has a knack of delivering time and again for his country.

Having gone down a goal early, sending shudders through the 30,000-plus Socceroos fans inside the ground, it was the Melbourne City striker who drew his side level just six minutes later with a trademark header from an inch-perfect cross from Mat Leckie.

Belying his 37 years, the Socceroos all-time leading scorer stayed on the pitch during extra time as others far younger than he cramped up and felt the strain of the tough battle being fought, and it was that forehead of his again that came to the rescue as he headed home his second goal of the night. Sighs of relief all around the country could be heard interspersed with raucous celebration.

Coincidentally, as important as that goal proved to be for Australia, it was just as important for Cahill personally, being his 50th goal for his nation, becoming the first player in Australian history to score 50 goals for the national team.

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So as Syria lick their wounds and agonise over how close they came, Australia look ahead. A date with either Panama or Honduras, or perhaps even the USA, awaits in the final playoff next month.

It’s been a long, and at times treacherous, path to Russia for Australia, and it’s not over yet. One more hurdle stands in their path.

Will it be agony or will it be ecstasy?

 

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