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AFC World Cup Qualifying

Australia reach playoff in bid for fifth straight World Cup appearance

Doha (AFP) – Ajdin Hrustic fired a late winner to see Australia to a nerve-wracking 2-1 victory over United Arab Emirates on Tuesday and into a last showdown for a place in this year’s World Cup in Qatar.

Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Hrustic’s deflected volley in the 84th minute decided a feverish clash in the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium that will host seven games in the World Cup in November.

More than 4,000 Emirates fans made up more than half the crowd in the 40,000 capacity stadium where the players were blasted with air conditioning to keep the evening temperatures down.

Australia, who will take on Peru in the same stadium on June 13 in their quest to qualify for a fifth straight finals, struggled to gain the upper hand.

Nineteen-year-old forward Harib Al-Maazmi, who scored the winner in UAE’s surprising 1-0 win over South Korea that got them into this playoff, had his side’s best first-half chances, each time breaking down his favoured left wing.

After 18 minutes his run took him to within three yards of goal but he could not get a shot away and was smothered by the Australian defence.

The Shabab Al Ahli winger beat the Australian defence again 10 minutes before the break but Socceroos goalkeeper Mathew Ryan somehow got an arm to his effort.

Four minutes into the second half, Al-Maazmi again forced Ryan into a low save before Jackson Irvine put Australia ahead.

Martin Boyle stole the ball on the right wing, took it into the penalty area and Irvine, who plays for German second-division side St Pauli, arrived for a tap-in.

Australia barely had time to savour their goal when Al-Maazmi again found space on the left. His cross broke to Caio Canedo, a Brazilian who first got an East Timor passport and then qualified for the UAE in 2020, who blasted home from close range.

The game seemed headed for extra time when Hrustic met the ball from a corner that was only half cleared and his left-footed strike took a big deflection to find the net.

UAE had been looking to qualify for the World Cup for only the second time since their debut in 1990.

New Zealand will take on Costa Rica in Doha on June 14 to decide the final qualifier for the tournament that starts November 21.

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