The Caltex Socceroos have drawn 2-2 with Saudi Arabia to keep their unbeaten record in final phase of World Cup qualifying after Friday morning’s (AEDT) electric clash in front of over 60,000 fans in Jeddah.
After Saudi Arabia took an early advantage it was Socceroo defender Trent Sainsbury who equalised on the stroke of half time with a glancing header from a corner.
And with 20 minutes left, Tomi Juric guided home a low cross at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah to make it 2-1.
But the Saudis hit back with ten minutes left to ensure a nerve wracking final few minutes with keeper Mat Ryan pulling off a sensational stop to keep the hosts out.
Australia now has seven points from three games heading into Tuesday’s clash with Japan in Melbourne.
The Saudis’ game plan worked a treat early.
They pressed high, asked the questions of Australia and with a huge crowd behind them got their reward early.
The dangerous Nawaf Al Abed with the detp touch to play a teammate in and the cut back was met by the on-rushing Taisir Al-Jassim who guided it home low past Mat Ryan.
But as it often transpires, Australia weathered the storm and worked their way back into the contest.
Whilst not at their regal best, the Caltex Socceroos pushed the Saudis back with Celtic’s Tom Rogic a constant threat down the middle.
It was Rogic who set up central striker Juric who put the ball into the net but it was adjudged offside.
Just before half time Brad Smith’s surging run and shot was the best chance for the Australians. However, two minutes later Aaron Mooy directed a perfect corner onto the head of Sainsbury who guided it home to send the teams into the break on level terms.
Matt Leckie was close to a goal attempt after a low cross from Juric was intercepted by keeper. But the crowd lifted when Nasser Al Shamrani was injected as a substitute for the Saudis.
“The Earthquake” had an immediate impact. Matt Spiranovic with blocking defence inside the box to keep the home side out as the Saudi striker’s presence was felt immediately.
But it was sublime Rogic again, this time playing through Robbie Kruse down the wing and his low cross was met by Juric who guided the ball home from in front of goal.
The crowd was stunned but it was that man Al Shamrani who got the vital touch in a crowded box to help guide the ball home after Australia was opened up by a cut back from Al-Jassim.
With just over 11 minutes left it was 2-2 and game on as the crowd lifted.
And had it not been for Mat Ryan, it should’ve been 3-2 after the Saudis sprung the offside trap but the Valencia keeper saved brilliantly to keep Australia in the game.
Australia hit back in the final few minutes as the Saudis held on for the draw.
The Caltex Socceroos now head to Melbourne for another group blockbuster, this time at home to Japan.