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2018 World Cup Qualifying - AFC, Round Four
  • Omar Al Somah (85' PEN)
  • Robbie Kruse (40')
1st Leg
1st Leg

Al Soma spot on as Syria draw with Australia in World Cup playoff

Omar Al Soma celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot. MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images

Syria's refusal to give up on their improbable World Cup dream shone through yet again with Omar Al Soma's 85th minute equaliser from the penalty spot leaving their World Cup 2018 playoff with Australia finely balanced.

Al Soma's spot kick cancelled out Robbie Kruse's first-half opener for the Socceroos, who dominated possession but continued to struggle in front of goal as they have throughout much of the World Cup qualifying campaign.

The teams will meet again in Sydney on Tuesday with Australia holding the advantage of an away goal as the Syrians maintained their unbeaten record at their adopted home in the Malaysian city of Malacca.

Ayman Hakeem's side have shown a knack for scoring vital late goals at the Hang Jebat Stadium and it was the same again against an Australian team who came into the game as favourites to secure the country's fourth World Cup appearance in a row.

The tension in the opening 30 minutes reflected the importance of the fixture and the scrappy nature of proceedings came as little surprise in such stifling conditions.

Australia's well-drilled backline left Al Soma, Syria's main attacking threat, in offside positions time and again as the "home" team seemed incapable of finding the route to goal.

The final 15 minutes of the opening half saw that start to change as both teams finally found their rhythm.

Al Soma was creating the openings for striker partner Omar Khrbin, fizzing a low ball into the Al Hilal man's feet that was steered over the bar before a similar effort saw Khrbin's scissor kick miss the target.

Australia had little in clear-cut chances to show for their dominance of possession with only Mark Milligan forcing anything like a serious save from Ibrahim Alma with his long range attempt inside the opening 20 minutes.

Despite that, Australia's lead was as deserving as it was anticipated.

Mathew Leckie and Kruse had been linking up increasingly well on the Socceroos' right and that was the combination that delivered the opening goal, with Leckie latching on to Milos Degenek's perfectly-weighted pass to find space behind the back line before firing low towards goal for Kruse to tap in.

The Bundesliga-based pair reversed roles four minutes later when Kruse sent in a corner that Leckie headed just over the bar as Australia finished the half in a mood that will have pleased coach Ange Postecoglou.

Juric was unlucky not to double Australia's lead when he hit the post twice in succession early in a second half in which the Syrians steadily took control.

Khrbin forced a save out of Mathew Ryan just two minutes after the restart and Leckie's astute defensive work denied Khrbin's close range attempt.

The Syrian chances started to mount up: Al Soma headed over the bar before seeing Degenek block his shot minutes later, and Khrbin's free kick was deflected just wide of a wrong-footed Ryan and the goal.

The pressure continued to increase, with Ryan instinctively palming Al Soma's header from Firas Al Khatib's cross onto the post before collecting at the second attempt. That Syrian resolve was once again coming to the fore.

Eventually, Syria claimed their deserved reward, even if the manner in which the equaliser arrived will have left Postcoglou and his players questioning referee Alireza Faghani. Leckie's aerial challenge on Al Soma -- there may have been the slightest of shoves in the Al Ahli striker's back -- in the area was deemed illegal and Al Soma smashed the penalty into the roof of the net.

Trent Sainsbury saw his close range header saved spectacularly by Alma minutes later, and Moayad Al Ajan brought a superb stop our of Ryan from distance, but the teams will face off again on Tuesday with the outcome still in the balance.

WC Qual - AFC News