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Bullied Socceroos struggle to fourth draw in a row

Soccer

The Socceroos hopes of qualifying for next year's World Cup in Russia will hinge on winning their remaining home matches after escaping with a scrappy 1-1 draw against Iraq amid dreadful conditions in Tehran.

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Mathew Leckie gave Australia the lead with a 40th minute header from an Aaron Mooy corner kick but Iraq’s attacking persistence paid off through substitute Ahmed Yasin’s second-half equaliser overnight, Australian time.

It came as coach Ange Postecoglou boldly unveiled a brand new 3-4-3 formation – and his charges clearly battled to adjust as they hung on for their fourth qualifying draw in a row – but he said that was not the reason for the result.

“It’s got nothing to do with the system,” he said.

“When they’re knocking long balls and it’s a contest in the air, it’s irrelevant what system you’re playing.

“It’s about winning the ball in that area and in the second half, it just seemed every time they’d knock a long ball, they’d win the first header and we’d be scrambling to try and get control of the game.

“In the end we just invited pressure on ourselves and paid the price.”

Australia has three home games to come – the next on Tuesday in Sydney against the United Arab Emirates – as they seek an appearance at a fourth successive World Cup.

They remain third in Group B following Japan’s 2-0 win away to the UAE, who now probably need to win at Allianz Arena to stay in contention.

They sit three points behind joint leaders Japan and Saudi Arabia, who are also yet to play in Australia.

“We’ve had four away games now, we only have one more,” Postecoglou said.

“We haven’t lost so we’re still in a good position to qualify.”

Steady rain throughout the day exacerbated what was already one of the worst pitches Australia has played on in recent years at the PAS Stadium, and at times the new-look back three of Mark Milligan, Milos Degenek and Bailey Wright looked unable to cope.

Mooy’s corner five minutes from the break superbly picked out Leckie, who headed home at the near post to relieve the pressure valve on the Socceroos.

But the Lions of Mesopotamia kept on coming and in the 76th minute managed to square the ledger.

A terrific cross from Ali Adnan found Yasin, who scored to bring the small but vocal and largely pro-Iraqi crowd back to life in an instant.

Both teams had chances to win it in a frantic end to the match but it is undoubtably the Socceroos who will be happier with the point in the circumstances.

Nonetheless, captain Mile Jedinak admits Australia lost the physical battle, struggling to deal with Iraq’s constant bombardment of long balls.

Postecoglou said they were second-best in the air, an area that has traditionally been the team’s strength, and invited pressure upon themselves. It was a surprise considering so many of the Socceroos ply their trade in the English Championship, where many games descend into a similarly hard slog.

“It’s not difficult to hear – we as a group, and me as the captain of the team, take responsibility for that,” Jedinak said.

“It caused us more problems than it should have done, no doubt about that.

“Especially with the way we set out, we knew that would more than likely happen.

“I know there was a lot of contested ball at the back that we should have won, particularly in the first half.

“It’s more about where are our other bodies, where’s the support, where are we tucked in.

“A couple of times we did let ourselves down on that. We’ll have to address it.”

While the Socceroos managed to take the lead through Leckie’s header in the 40th minute and had their chances to score a second, they failed to convert – which is why Jedinak said substitute Ahmed Yasin’s 76th-minute equaliser stung so much.

“(We) needed another goal,” he said.

“We had a couple of chances, and if we’d gone two goals up then Iraq might still have thrown the kitchen sink but they’d have been a lot more ragged.

“It’s disappointing to concede after all that pressure, the boys are hurting but we have to move forward.”

Australia are back in action on Tuesday night in Sydney against the United Arab Emirates.

-AAP

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