Ange Postecoglou labelled Tim Cahill one of Australia’s great sportsmen after the veteran forward fired his country one step closer to the World Cup.
Cahill scored twice against Syria at the ANZ Stadium on Tuesday to seal a 2-1 win in the second leg of their Asian play-off, giving the hosts a 3-2 aggregate victory.
The win means Australia must now defeat the fourth-placed team from the Concacaf section across two legs next month to seal a place at a fourth consecutive World Cup.
The Asian champions have Cahill to thank for getting that far, with the Australia captain notching his 49th and 50th goals for Australia to cancel out Omar Al Somah’s sixth-minute strike.
“That’s why Timmy’s Timmy. He’s is a great Australian sportsman,” Postecoglou said. “He’s got an international record that stacks up against the best.”
Restored to the starting line up, Cahill scored on 13 minutes and then four minutes into the second half of extra time – both headers – to give Australia the victory.
The home side were made to work hard to progress, though, although their chances increased once Syria’s Mahmoud Al Mawas was sent off in extra time for a second bookable offence. Syria were attempting to make a first World Cup.
“I knew I was going to score,” Cahill said of the winner. “You’ve got to write your own script. I said to Tommy Rogic if you don’t take your moment then I’m going to take it.
“For me, I’m just glad the boss gave me the opportunity and believed in me to leave me out there [for the whole match]. It’s a responsibility when I play. This is my passion. I will run to the end for this manager and these players.”
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Syria could have extended the match right at the death to a penalty shootout, but Al Somah struck the post with a free kick in the last minute of extra time.
“The players followed instructions very, very well, but the Australian goal happened because of their pressure,” manager Ayman Al Hakeem said. “The first goal was a small mistake, not a major mistake, and the second goal was because we had 10 players.
“But I am very proud of my boys with what they have achieved so far, and that’s going to be continuing moving forward as well.”
Syria captain Firas Al Khatib, who was introduced as a second-half substitute, added: “I apologise on behalf of all my fellow players to the Syrian people. We were hoping to provide a smile and joy to Syrians everywhere. Our disappointment is very big.”
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