Australia edge out Syria and seal spot in Asian Cup last 16

Socceroos make it two wins out of two in Group B with unconvincing 1-0 victory in Qatar

Powered by automated translation

Australia sealed their spot in the Asian Cup knockout stages but will have to improve on the performance that saw them edge out Syria if they have any desires on lifting the trophy in Qatar.

Jackson Irvine grabbed the winner on the hour with his second goal of the tournament – after also scoring in the opening win over India – swiveling in the box before poking the ball through the legs of goalkeeper Ahmad Madanieh.

While the performance at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium on Thursday was far from convincing, it does mean the Socceroos are through to the last 16 with a game – against Uzbekistan on Tuesday – still to play.

“It’s about winning football matches,” said match-winner Irvine. “That’s tournament mode: clean sheets, scoring goals, winning goals, getting through to the next round.

“It was a hard-fought win. The boys had to dig in against a team that threw everything at us at the end of the game. We’re pleased with the win.

“You’ve gotta be in there to score. We’ve got good quality in the final third; if you get yourself in there enough times, something will drop for you.

“In games like these the first goal is so important. We probably should have put it to bed – we had a lot of open spaces after the goal – but that’s something we can work on. A clean sheet’s the most important thing.”

It was the unfancied Syrians who nearly took the lead inside five minutes when their Colombian-born striker Pablo Sabbag's left-footed shot beat Australia goalkeeper Maty Ryan, only to strike the foot of the post before being scrambled away.

Sabbag was left with a face injury midway through the half after being caught with a stray forearm by Aiden O'Neill, resulting in booking for the Australian midfielder.

But Australia, who reached the last 16 of the Qatar World Cup before a 2-1 defeat to eventual champions Argentina, had now began to take control on the game.

Manager Graham Arnold criticised his side for failing to make more of their set pieces in their 2-0 win over India, and 10 minutes before the break Australia nearly went ahead from a corner.

Defender Gethin Jones won the ball with a looping header and midfielder Irvine just failed to reach the ball on the stretch at the far post.

Ranked 91 in the world to Australia's 25, Syria – who drew their opening game against Uzbekistan 0-0 – were hardly in it as an attacking force despite the best efforts of their fanatical supporters.

It took a triple change in the 57th minute to spark Australia into life with Arnold bringing on attacking midfielders Riley McGree and Samuel Silvera, plus midfielder Keanu Baccus. Three minutes later Australia took the lead through Germany-based midfielder Irvine.

There was nearly embarrassment for goalkeeper Ryan when he spilt a tame effort from distance in the 67th minute, scrambling back to claw the ball off his goal-line.

“We’ve got great belief that we can win the tournament,” said Ryan. “Obviously there’s a process involved in doing that and we ticked another box today.

“Syria are tenacious, they’re relentless and they leave it all out there. We expected a physical battle and for them to be quite direct. Thankfully we managed to deal with all those scenarios and get the win.

“Football’s not easy. You’re not gonna get it right every single time. We probed a lot, had quite a few entries in the box and were probably unlucky not to put one or two more chances away.”

In Tuesday's other Group B game, Uzbekistan defeated India 3-0 thanks to goals from Abbosbek Fayzullaev, Igor Sergeyev and Sherzod Nasrullaev.

Updated: January 18, 2024, 5:33 PM