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UAE comeback win opens World Cup door for Socceroos

Soccer

The United Arab Emirates have inflicted a hammer blow to Saudi Arabia’s World Cup hopes in a Group B result that would see Australia qualify with victory over Japan in Tokyo tomorrow night.

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The fourth-placed UAE kept alive their slim hopes of a first appearance at the World Cup since 1990 with a come-from-behind 2-1 win in Al Ain City overnight.

Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos remain in third spot behind the Saudis, despite having the same number of points and goal difference.

The Samurai Blue top the group with 17 points.

A draw against Japan would leave Postecoglou’s men requiring a win against Thailand in Melbourne next week to guarantee a World Cup berth in Russia.

A defeat would leave them requiring victory over Thailand in Melbourne next Tuesday, a Saudi Arabia loss to Japan in Jeddah and potentially defeat for the UAE against Iraq in Jordan to rubber-stamp a top-two finish.

The team that finishes third will be left facing a tough road to Russia starting with a play off against the third-placed team in Group A, which is likely to be either South Korea or Uzbekistan.

They would then need to see off the fourth-placed nation in the South and Central American group, which could be Costa Rica, the US, Panama or Honduras.

But Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou, who woke in the early hours of the morning to watch the match from the team’s hotel in Tokyo, said the team’s focus or mindset has not altered.

“While people are making a big deal about last night’s result, I can guarantee the boys won’t bat an eyelid because the motivation for tomorrow is the same as it would be regardless of what happened,” Postecoglou told reporters today.

“Our goal is to win here tomorrow night and win on Tuesday. Our fate’s been in our hands the whole way and it continues to be.”

Postecoglou has long maintained he has bigger goals in mind for the Socceroos than merely qualifying for the World Cup.

“We’ve done that before – not that we take it for granted. It will obviously be a big occasion should we do it,” he said.

“At the end of the day it’s not about wrapping it up.

“It’s about progression as a team. We want to play well tomorrow night against a difficult opponent away from home, perform well and win the game of football.”

The Socceroos, who have never won in Japan, will get their first look at Saitama Stadium with a familiarisation session this afternoon.

Striker Tomi Juric may not participate, and has not been involved with any training sessions with the team after taking a knock while playing for FC Luzern on Sunday night.

However, Postecoglou said he was confident Juric would be available for selection, while the rest of the squad is fit and raring to go.

Saudi Arabia coach Bert Van Marwijk described his side’s loss as “the most disappointing result in two years”.

“We had the opportunity to make an important step for direct placement, and we neglected that. It was completely unnecessary,” he told Football International.

Al Abed put the Saudis in front from the penalty spot in the 20th minute, but Ali Mabkhout levelled the score less than a minute later with a fine effort on the turn.

Saudi Arabia’s Osama Hawsawi hit the crossbar shortly after half-time, only for former Asian player of the year Ahmed Khalil to score a spectacular long-range winner on the hour mark.

Mahmoud Khamis of the UAE was sent off for a second bookable offence in the dying seconds of the game.

-AAP

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