Viet Nam News
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia’s Nassir Al Shamrani scored late to deny Australia a crucial victory in Thursday’s World Cup 2018 qualifier between the top two sides in Asian zone Group A.
The entertaining 2-2 draw ensured both sides maintained their unbeaten start after three matches in the final round of qualifying for Russia.
Shamrani struck in the 79th minute, sweeping home from close range just eight minutes after Tomi Juric had finished a well-constructed move to put the Socceroos on the verge of claiming victory.
Shamrani was playing his first game for Saudi Arabia for 18 months.
The fact he was the man who scored the equaliser would have been especially annoying for Australia as Shamrani was a central figure in an infamous confrontation between his club side Al Hilal against Western Sydney Wanderers during the 2014 AFC Champions League final.
The home side, roared on by a partisan crowd of more than 51,000, could have even snatched victory in the closing minutes but were denied by a fine save from Australian goalkeeper, Matthew Ryan.
Australia also had a chance to take all three points but the opportunity was spurned by Matthew Spiranovic.
The match sprung to life early on when a fine Saudi move resulted in the home side taking the lead in the fifth minute.
Taisir Al Jassim finished smartly from 10 yards after Yehya Al Shehri opened up the Australian defence to secure an early advantage for the Saudis.
Australia overcame their poor start, gradually forcing their way back into the game but it took until the 45th minute for them to draw level.
The equaliser came from a corner when Trent Sainsbury glanced home.
The result leaves Ange Postecoglou’s team top of the group with seven points, the same number as the Saudis, but with a better goal difference.
Close behind on six points are Japan who narrowly beat Iraq 2-1 earlier in the day, and the United Arab Emirates who defeated Thailand 3-1.
Thursday’s results set up an intriguing round of matches next week when Australia play Japan and the Saudis, now managed by Bert Van Marwijk, take on the UAE.
The top two sides from the group automatically qualify for the finals in Russia, while the team which finishes third will head to a play-off. — AFP