Australia’s celebrations following victory over the United Arab Emirates have been tempered by an acceptance that the job is not yet complete, with focus quickly turning to next week’s final World Cup qualifying playoff against Peru.
A late Ajdin Hrustić volley gave Graham Arnold’s side a nervy but crucial win in Wednesday morning’s Asian playoff in Qatar, after Caio Canedo cancelled out Jackson Irvine’s opener. The 2-1 victory sets up a final must-win inter-continental playoff next Tuesday morning AEST as the Socceroos continue their bid to reach a fifth consecutive World Cup.
Irvine’s opening strike set the scene for an important victory over the UAE, and he said it was a “great feeling”, but warned that the job was only half done with one final hurdle to overcome in the drawn-out efforts to secure a place at this year’s tournament in Qatar.
“Obviously it’s a great feeling,” he said. “But you have that moment of elation when the final whistle goes, and then straightaway you are focused. It’s a great result which means we can go into the week full of confidence. The job is only half done and we will have a tough preparation week again. Recover, get ready to go again. We have a great squad with a good energy about us, and I’m excited.”
Coach Arnold, who has been under intense pressure since Australia’s qualification campaign stuttered earlier this year, said the Socceroos knew the UAE would sit back, adding that he ensured his team would not play into the hands of the opposition.
“We made sure we stayed nice and compact the whole game,” he said. “I thought there was a lot less space for the opposition tonight. Overall I thought defensively we were good, and I saw a good reaction tonight.”
Arnold said he had wanted to emphasise “Aussie DNA” to the squad, which he characterised as being about the “fight” and the “win” and not how it would be achieved.
“That is what I have been driving to the boys … about the Aussie DNA, and that is fight, scratch and do whatever you have got to do to win the game. However we win it, who cares? Just win it.”
Hrustić, whose thunderous volley took a deflection on its way into the back of the net in the 84th minute, said the team never gave up, even after the UAE equalised.
“I told the boys at the start, ‘let’s do it’ … we have put so much work in and we have been working our arses off, so to say,” Hrustić said. “We conceded a goal and we shouldn’t have. We kept going, kept fighting and we took our chance, and the goal for Australia was for all the boys, for the staff, because we have been through a lot and it hasn’t been easy. I don’t think everyone realises how much work we put in, so I’m happy. Really happy.”
Former player and current commentator Craig Foster called Hrustić’s strike “beautiful”, adding in a social media post that the team’s performance in the second half was “much better”.
Another former international, Rob Cornthwaite, added to the chorus online saying the game “wasn’t pretty” but had particular praise for returning midfielder Aaron Mooy, who played his first game of competitive football this year.
The match was tense and cagey at times and far from an enthralling spectacle, leading to concerns that a repeat of the Socceroos’ performance against the UAE will not be enough to beat Peru in six days’ time.
Kick-off against Peru, who qualified for the inter-continental playoff after finishing fifth in South America’s Conmebol conference, is at 4am AEST next Tuesday.