Qantas Under 23s grab valuable draw in Olympic qualifying

Australia commenced their final stage of qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games in impressive fashion securing a valuable away point with a scoreless draw against group rivals Iraq in Qatar overnight.

Australia commenced their final stage of qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games in impressive fashion securing a valuable away point with a scoreless draw against group rivals Iraq in Qatar overnight.

The Qantas Under 23s played strongly throughout the entire match despite high humidity and temperatures hovering around 40 degrees in the Al Rayyan Stadium in Doha.

“We played an outstanding game of football today with all the players performing brilliantly and carrying out the game plan to perfection,” said coach Graham Arnold.

“We generally controlled large periods of the match and also the tempo of the game playing some smart football in the process.

“Iraq are an excellent side featuring a number of players from the Asian Cup, however in the end we were unlucky not to claim all three points.

“This was one of the best all-round performances I have seen from an Australian side in recent times.

“There is still scope for further improvement given more time together, and given the quality of the players that were absent, so the signs are very encouraging.”

The first half was largely devoid of goalscoring opportunities however Australia had the better of the second half especially in the final 20 minutes when they had a number of chances to secure the winner.

David Williams had a shot well saved while striker Bruce Djite firstly fired over the crossbar and then had strong claims for a penalty waved away after he attempted to round the Iraq goalkeeper.

Iraq-s best chance came in injury time with a dangerous corner cleared by Nikolai Topor-Stanley standing near the goal-line.

German-based defender Matthew Spiranovic made an impressive debut for the Qantas Under 23s with Newcastle Jets midfielder Stuart Musialik captaining the side in the absence of the suspended Mark Milligan. Other key absentees were injured Adelaide United midfielder Kristian Sarkies, suspended Newcastle Jets striker Mark Bridge plus Melbourne Victory midfielder Leigh Broxham and Newcastle United attacker James Troisi. Aaron Downes of English club Chesterfield was a late withdrawal from the squad having sustained a head injury last weekend.

Australia will now take on DPR Korea in Newcastle on Saturday 8 September and Lebanon in Gosford on Wednesday 12 September in what looms as a crucial double-header.

Tickets: Tickets for both matches will go on sale at 9am on Monday 27 August.

Tickets for the matches at Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford available via Ticketek, Ph 132 849,

Tickets for the match at EnergyAustralia Stadium, Newcastle available via Proticket, Ph- 02 4915 2345 - and all Proticket agencies (see website for details).

Australian line-up: Danny Vukovic (gk); Matthew Spiranovic, Adrian Leijer, Trent McClenahan, Ruben Zadkovich (Neil Kilkenny 67-), Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Stuart Musialik, Nick Ward (David Micevski 89-), David Williams, Nathan Burns (Dario Vidosic 75), Bruce Djite

Cautions: Ward, Burns

Australia have been drawn against Iraq, DPR (North) Korea and Lebanon with only the group winner to qualify. Australia have already progressed past Chinese Taipei in the preliminary stage of qualifying and finished ahead of Iran and Jordan to qualify alongside Saudi Arabia for the third stage.

The 20-man squad for the match against Iraq on August 22: Nathan Burns (Adelaide United), Bruce Djite (Adelaide United), Aaron Downes (Chesterfield, England), Ersan Gulum (Vestel Manisaspor, Turkey), Troy Hearfield (Newcastle Jets), Neil Kilkenny (Birmingham City, loan to Oldham Athletic, England), Adrian Leijer (Fulham, England), Trent McClenahan (Hereford United, England), David Micevski (Perth Glory), Stuart Musialik (Newcastle Jets), Steven O-Dor (Wellington Phoenix), Bradley Porter (Central Coast Mariners), Matthew Spiranovic (Nuremberg, Germany), Nikolai Topor-Stanley (Perth Glory), Tando Velaphi (Perth Glory), Dario Vidosic (Nuremberg, Germany), Danny Vukovic (Central Coast Mariners), Nick Ward (QPR, England), David Williams (Brondby, Denmark), Ruben Zadkovich (Sydney FC)

Fixtures:- Iraq v Australia 0-0 Wednesday 22 Aug, 7pm local Al Rayyan Stadium, Doha, Qatar

Australia v DPR Korea Saturday 8 Sept, kick-off 7pm AEST EnergyAustralia Stadium, Newcastle

Australia v Lebanon Wednesday 12 Sept, kick-off 7pm AEST Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford

Lebanon v Australia Wednesday 17 Oct, 6pm local time Beirut Municipal Stadium, Beirut

Australia v Iraq Saturday 17 Nov, kick-off 7pm AEDST Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford

DPR Korea v Australia Wednesday 21 Nov, 3pm local time Kim Il Sung Stadium, Pyongyang