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Feb 5, 2012

Olyroos facing long road to London

Goal-shy Australia face a pair of potential must-win matches to stay alive in the Olympic football tournament after crashing 2-0 to Uzbekistan in a freezing Tashkent.

The loss leaves Australia bottom of the four-team Asian qualifying group with just two of the six rounds remaining.

Only the group winner qualifies directly, with the second-placed teams from each of the three groups advancing to playoffs in Vietnam in late March.

The winner of that will play African nation Senegal in Coventry, England on April 23, with the victor claiming the final Olympic qualification spot.

The defeat in Tashkent leaves Australia on three points, five behind group leader Uzbekistan.

United Arab Emirates are second on five, one point ahead of Iraq, who they beat 1-0 in Sunday's other group B fixture.

Australia's chances of getting second spot may hinge on them winning both of their last two matches.

They are away to the UAE on February 22 and at home to Iraq in Gosford on March 14 in their last round-robin game.

Coach Aurelio Vidmar will be hoping he can regain the services of key overseas-based players including Tommy Orr and Matthew Leckie, whose clubs refused to release them for the game in Tashkent.

Conditions in Tashkent made fluent football difficult on a pitch more white than green due to snow and frost.

While the kickoff was brought forward five hours to 3pm local time, the temperature was still an uncomfortable -12 Celsius.

The Olyroos' scoring drought continued, with Australia still to register their first goal in four games after each of their first three games finished 0-0.

Australia made a promising start, with Mate Dugandzic and captain Oliver Bozanic each getting a shot on target inside the first ten minutes.

The visitors had two goals disallowed, one in each half.

Shortly after Kenja Turaev gave Uzbekistan the lead with a 27th-minute long-range effort, Jason Hoffman had a goal rubbed out for offside.

Both teams created chances in the second half, with Mitch Nicholls netting just after the hour, but the goal was disallowed for an infringement in the penalty area.

Nicholls also picked up a yellow card during the game.

Oleg Zoteev secured the win for the home team with a sublime volley in the 85th minute.

Australia are returning to Dubai to prepare for the game against the UAE.

They will play an international friendly in Dubai on February 16 against the Philippines.

Australia has qualified for the football tournament at every Olympics since 1988.

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