Sydney (AFP) – Australia boosted their World Cup qualifying hopes on Tuesday with a tense, 2-0 win over UAE, whose under-pressure coach Mahdi Ali announced his resignation after the match.
Goals from Jackson Irvine and Mathew Leckie handed Australia a crucial victory which kept them in touch with the top two spots in Group B and an automatic berth at Russia 2018.
It was a tense, niggling encounter in Sydney with a total of 42 fouls, 26 committed by the home side, but the first of five yellow cards was not shown until the 80th minute.
The Asian champions now have 13 points, after starting the day three adrift of group leaders Japan and Saudi Arabia.
“Everyone stressed the importance to us before the game and it was just about keeping calm and composed and taking our opportunities when they came,” Australia skipper Mile Jedinak said.
“We squandered a few chances and might have got the second goal a little bit earlier, but in the end the boys delivered tonight and that’s all we can ask.”
While Australia lived to fight on, there were tears in the UAE camp with their qualification hopes now looking remote.
UAE coach Ali, with a talented squad at his disposal, has come under increasing fire during a campaign which appears doomed after four defeats in seven games.
Australia midfielder Irvine, who plays for Burton Albion in the English Championship, gave the Socceroos a sixth-minute lead with his first international goal.
Irvine attacked James Troisi’s corner and had a free header into the UAE goal.
But UAE remained dangerous with their talismanic playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, the Asian player of the year, forcing a flying save from goalkeeper Mat Ryan in the 17th minute.
The Australians were failing to make their passes stick with several cheap turnovers, while Abdulrahman was fouled six times in the opening half, underlining the threat he posed.
Australia were on top in the second half but it took until the 78th minute before they killed off the UAE with their vital second goal.
A Troisi corner was thumped home by a leaping Leckie, who scored a similar goal against Iraq last week.
UAE-based midfielder Mark Milligan received his second yellow card in the qualifying phase and will now miss Australia’s next qualifier against Saudi Arabia in Adelaide on June 8.
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