Australia 2 Oman 2
Australia squeaked out of its home game against Oman with a two-all draw after going behind in the sixth minute and further behind as a result of an own goal four minutes into the second half. The fight back began quickly with a powerful header by Tim Cahill and late in the game Brett Holman fired in a grounder to equalise but despite a number of corners and more headers by Cahill the game ended all square, leaving Australia precariously placed in its World Cup bid.
It was not an impressive performance by Australia though it had far more possession, and it had more difficulty in finding its targets in the front third than the visitors in their infrequent breaks.
Australia had the ball on a string for the first five minutes without threatening, then Oman made its first foray forward and Abdul Aziz (Mubarak) left Michael Thwaite in his wake and nutmegged Mark Schwarzer to silence the expectant crowd. From then until the interval, Oman was content to leave five men at the back and let Australia play in midfield. Michael thwaites came up for a corner but headed wide and when Cahill was fouled, Luke Wilkshire free kick found Mile Jedinak, but the defensive midfielder headed well over. Ali Al Habsi, the Wigan Athletic goalkeeper came flying out to punch the ball clear before dealing with two Australian headers in more orthodox fashion. As the Socceroos tried to get back into the game Matt McKay’s free kick, resulted in a Brett Holman header on the second ball which once again tested the keeper.
The second half began with another disaster for Australia as Raed Salah (Ibrahim got clear on the right in the 49th minute and cut the ball across goal. Mile Jedinak was caught facing his own goal and his attempt to prevent the ball going past him only resulted in his wrong footing Schwarzer as he knocked it into the net. The Omani fans in good numbers down that corner of the field were ecstatic as their team celebrated with them.
Australia however hit back almost instantly as Robbie Kruse won a corner and Luke Wilkshire delivered the perfect cross for a trademark header by Cahill. The tiring James Holland was removed with Marko Bresciano coming on, and immediately Australia looked more composed in the centre and Alex Brosque got in at the back post only to have his shot blocked. Then Wilkshire hit the bar and the post with a lofted shot which beat Al Habsi but would not cross the line. In the 72nd minute Bresciano was injured in the act of shooting and was replaced four minutes later by Tommy Oar. Cahill had another header which bounced over the bar, again with the keeper stranded. But despite four minutes of notified extra time and a little bit more the Socceroos had to settle for a point.
Paul le Guen was understandably pleased with the result and his players. ‘We expected to do well and but sometimes you dream of more. I am proud of these players and hope they will be recognised,’ he said. ‘We played quite well, and we are improving stage by stage. Compare this team with the one which played 18 months ago, it is a different group of players and we are closer to the top teams than we were before.’
Holger Osiek was highly animated on the touch line, showing his displeasure at the first half performance, which he made clear to the players and to the press corps at the end of the game. ‘The spirit was back in the second half,’ he said. ‘The passing needs to be more direct and we need a better performance over 90 minutes not just a half.’ He was concerned about Mark Bresciano’s injury with a stud in his foot which meant he had to be replaced only a few minutes after coming on. This disrupted the team and the strategy in the second half, though Tommy Oar did some good things in his short appearance. Archie Thompson replaced Robbie Kruse but could not conjure up a goal, though he did put in some excellent runs and a couple of crosses, where his speed down the flanks got him ahead not only of the defence but his fellow attackers as well. Tim Cahill was clearly the man of the match for his goal, his series of fierce headers when he seemed to win every corner kick in the air and his leadership as he tried to persuade the Uzbek referee to clamp down on Omani time-wasting.