Qantas Under 23's one step away from qualifying for Beijing
The Qantas Under 23’s have taken a giant step forward in its bid to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, with a thoroughly deserved 2-0 win over nearest rivals Iraq at Bluetongue Central Coast Stadium on Saturday night.
The Qantas Under 23-s have taken a giant step forward in its bid to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, with a thoroughly deserved 2-0 win over nearest rivals Iraq at Bluetongue Central Coast Stadium on Saturday night.
Goals from central defensive pairing Adrian Leijer (18-) and Mark Milligan (58-) sealed the victory that now sees Australia jump three points clear of Iraq, with one game remaining.
Australia will travel to North Korean capital Pyongyang tomorrow, for Wednesday-s final group game, where a point will be sufficient to get Australia through to Beijing.
“It was hugely satisfying, but it-s a job only half done at the moment,” said Graham Arnold after the match.
"I've congratulated them on the performance, it was a great effort, but We-ve got to go to North Korea tomorrow play on artificial grass in zero degrees temperatures… that-s Asia, he added.”
Captain Mark Milligan, whose thunderbolt header gave Australia the two-goal cushion, echoed Arnold-s words.
“It was a massive buzz,” Milligan said. “We did what we came to do and that was get the three points, but we still need to get a result (in North Korea) to go to the Olympics.”
"We all came together after the game, because we just want to keep everybody's feet on the ground. The job is only half done at the moment.
“But we're extremely happy with how it went tonight," he added.
The first half was more open than most would have expected, with Iraq true to their word and not putting up a defensive wall for Australia to break down.
The first chance fell to Mark Bridge after just three minutes, when the Iraq defender mistimed his clearance and the Newcastle Jets striker turned sharply, but saw his shot saved by Kadhum.
Australia continued to press down the flanks with Ruben Zadkovich, James Troisi and Nikolai Topor-Stanley combining well down the left especially.
In the 8th minute, Troisi played in Zadkovich, but Kadhum blocked the shot and recovered to grab the ball in front of Bridge. His theatrics though didn-t go down well with home crowd, as he rolled around clutching his face. Thankfully the Singapore referee wasn-t buying into it then and for the rest of the game.
After several more raids, Australia-s persistence was rewarded with a goal to defender Adrian Leijer. He was hand after the ball ricochet out to him, following a free kick by Sarkies and he slotted home from eight metres out.
Australia continued to have the better of play, but Iraq almost snatched an equaliser in a dominating spell just before half time. The lively Mujbel on the right wing, dribbled his way into the penalty box and drilled a shot at Vukovic, who could only parry and Trent McClenahan had to clear off the line.
Iraq came out attacking at the start of the second half and pinned Australia in its own half, but in general the defence was looking strong and Iraq had no meaningful shots on goal.
Then came the pivotal moment of the match, when Australia was awarded a free kick just outside the right edge of the penalty box. Sarkies delivery was again spot on and his cross the back post, found Milligan steaming onto the ball and he powered his header home from close range.
Minutes later, Leijer covered his captain-s blushes after a careless pass allowed Iraq through on goal, but the Fulham defender superbly came across and forced a corner instead of a shot at goal.
For all Iraq-s efforts, most of their efforts came from long distance, with none really troubling Danny Vukovic. The closest they came to scoring was a rebound off the knee of Topor-Stanley that shaved the post.
The introduction of several substitutes for Australia, saw them take control in the final 15 minutes and should have added one or perhaps two more goals to the tally, with Sarkies missing two decent efforts, Nick Ward denied by the keeper and David Williams missing the rebound (off Ward-s shot) with the goal at his mercy.
Australia 2 (Adrian Leijer 18-, Mark Milligan 58-) Iraq 0
Australia line-up: Danny Vukovic (gk); Ruben Zadkovich (Nick Ward 77-), Adrian Leijer, Mark Milligan (c), Kristian Sarkies, Mark Bridge (David Williams 71-), Trent McClenahan, Dario Vidosic, Leigh Broxham (Aaron Downes 89-), Nikolai Topor-Stanley, James Troisi
Cautions: Zadkovich (26-)