Qantas Under 23's squash Saudi challenge
The Qantas Under 23s have secured a vital 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia in their Beijing Olympic qualifying match at Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide. Australia's goals were scored by Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Kristian Sarkies.
The Qantas Under 23s have secured a vital 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia in their Beijing Olympic qualifying match at Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide.
A headed goal in the 74th minute from Sydney FC defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley and an injury time goal from midfielder Kristian Sarkies was enough to ensure three important points for Australia and take them to within a point of the Saudis who remain top of Group D.
The result sees Australia move to five points after three matches. The other Group match will be played overnight and will see Jordan host Iran with both teams currently on one point each.
A dominant second half by Australia was the catalyst for the victory, with the 2-0 scoreline a bonus, considering how close all previous matches have been in the group so far.
Topor-Stanley opened the scoring in the 74th minute when he met Sarkies pinpoint free kick from just outside the left edge of the penalty area.
There was brief flurry of goalmouth activity by the Saudi-s soon after the goal, but after it was Australia that looked the more likely to add to the scoring and did just that in the dying seconds of the game. Neil Kilkenny and Nathan Burns combined to tee up Sarkies, who made no mistake from 15 metres out.
The match predictably started off with both sides not keen to give too much away early and it remained fairly even during the first half, although Saudi Arabia probably just shaded their hosts.
Neither side had any real chances at goal, with the Saudi-s main efforts coming from long range, which did not trouble Aussie keeper Danny Vukovic.
Australia started the second half strongly and when Birmingham City-s Kilkenny hit a shot just wide in the 49th minute, the hosts had signaled their intentions.
However for all their intent, Australia rarely threatened the Saudi goal, with some desperate defending also adding the visitors cause.
The breakthrough came after Ruben Zadkovich, back after missing the opening two games with a foot injury, was brought down on the edge of the area, with his Sydney teammate providing the finish.
Kilkenny and David Williams went close to adding a second goal, as Saudi pushed many players forward and they were caught out with seconds remaining, Sarkies grabbing a killer second goal.
Both teams will now back up in Damman City in a fortnight, before Australia returns to Adelaide for the third and final home match against Iran on Wednesday 16 May.
Australia fielded a strong line-up boosted by the return from injury of captain Mark Milligan and Ruben Zadkovich plus the inclusion of English-based midfielder Neil Kilkenny who made his first appearance for the team.
Qantas Under 23's coach Rob Baan was obviously delighted with the three points, saying "We needed a win and I think the way we got it was very comfortable. However I believe that is one of the best teams we have played.
"We were tactically organised and I told my players to be patient and in the end that was rewarded.
"They were very well organized in the middle and I knew we could take some opportunities out wide. The Saudi team are very good and dangerous on the counter-attack, but we had a very good transition, and the final result is because the team worked as a team.
"I am very happy with the options I now have. We have disappointed players on the bench but that shows we have good options and depth on the bench."
In the other group match played later that night, Iran and Jordan played out a 0-0 draw in Tehran, further cementing Australia's second place on the ladder (see below)
Australia 2 (Nikolai Topor-Stanley 74-, Kristian Sarkies 93-) Saudi Arabia 0
Australian line-up: Danny Vukovic (gk); Ruben Zadkovich, Adrian Leijer, Mark Milligan (c), Nikolai Topor-Stanley; Leigh Broxham, Neil Kilkenny, Nick Ward (David Williams 65-); Kristian Sarkies, Bruce Djite (Nathan Burns 70-), Mark Bridge
Subs not used: Trent McClenahan, Adam D-Apuzzo, Ben Griffin, Dario Vidosic, Tando Velaphi (gk)
Cautions: Milligan (18-), Djite (68-), Leijer (90-)
Group D Table
Team - Points - (GD)
Saudi Arabia - 6 (0) Australia - 5 (2) Jordan - 2 (-1) Iran - 2 (-1)