A late deflected goal from Ajdin Hrustic secured Australia’s 2-1 win over United Arab Emirates in an Asian playoff Tuesday and set up an intercontinental showdown with Peru for a spot at the World Cup in Qatar.
The Australians are a win away from a fifth consecutive World Cup appearance after ending the UAE’s bid for a return to soccer’s marquee tournament for first time since 1990.
Jackson Irvine steered in Martin Boyle’s pinpoint pass from the right to open the scoring for Australia in the 53rd minute but the UAE equalized four minutes later through Caio Canedo’s strike.
Hrustic’s powerful left-foot volley from the top of the area deflected off a defender in the 84th minute to clinch the win.
“Pleased with the result tonight, but it’s only halftime,” Irvine said. “Getting ready to turn our focus straight away to the next game. The job’s only half done.”
The Socceroos have a six-day break before the playoff against Peru, which finished fifth in South American qualifying, for a place alongside France, Denmark and Tunisia in Group D at the World Cup starting in November.
The Australians took a similar path to qualify for the 2018 World Cup but, unlike last time when Australia beat Syria and then Honduras on a home-and-away basis in the continental and intercontinental playoffs, both playoffs this month are winner-takes-all and both played in Qatar.
Australia’s head coach Graham Arnold was under pressure to deliver a result after the Socceroos started their qualifying campaign with 11 straight wins, then slumping to register just one victory in seven games to finish third in their group behind Saudi Arabia and Japan and being forced into the must-win playoff route to Qatar.
“I saw a good reaction tonight,” Arnold said. “That’s what I’ve been driving … about the Aussie DNA, and that is (to) kick, fight, scratch and do whatever you have to do to win the game. And however we win it, who cares, just win it.”
Arnold said the Socceroos would spend Wednesday recovering after a good defensive performance against UAE and would turn their attention immediately to Peru.
“We made sure we stayed nice and compact during the game,” he said. “We’ll improve even more for the next game.”