Australia Reach Semis after defeating Iraq in extra-time
The Qantas Socceroos beat Iraq to reach the semi-finals in the AFC Asian Cup
Harry Kewell has scored an extra-time winner against Iraq and booked Australia's place in the semi finals of the AFC Asian Cup.
Kewell's header was enough to see the Qantas Socceroos into the Australia day(AEDT) semi final in Doha. It was a late-late show though, just three minutes before the match would've gone to penalties.
The Australians delivered a disciplined, hard-working performance, rather than dazzling their Iraqi opposition but the solid defence and midfield built a good platform for the eventual victory. They also looked much better than in the previous game against Bahrain.
Despite Australia controlling the possession and being the more attacking side, Iraq did look dangerous on the counter attack and the Aussie back-line had to be wary of their pace on the break.
Brett Holman came close after a good ball from Lucas Neill but his effort at goal was blocked by the Iraqi 'keeper Mohammed Gassid who was solid throughout. Brisbane winger McKay was the next to go close for the Aussies but his attempted chip went just over the bar.
McKay and Ognenovski both went close before Kewell missed what was probably the best opportunity of the half when a sharp turn from the former Liverpool forward saw him one-on-one with the Iraq 'keeper. Kewell couldn't keep his effort on target though and half-time came with Australia still on level terms.
Iraq had their chances too, a couple of good efforts in the first 45 minutes and towards the end, only the excellence of veteran 'keeper Mark Schwarzer was enough to keep the scores level. They could also have had a penalty after Neill's clumsy challenge inside the area but the referee waved away the Iraqi player's appeals.
Both sides could have had goals but an energetic Australian side will definitely have felt like they should've won the game in normal time. The tie looked as if it were about to head to penalties with both sides cagey and solid in defence.
Cue Harry Kewell in the 117th minute. Matt McKay slung over a beautifully weighted cross from the left and it was the Galatasaray man who got between Basem Abbas and Ahmed Ibrahim to head low down past Mohammed Kassid.
The ecstatic Australian players then mobbed Kewell who ran to the side of the pitch spinning his now removed shirt around his head. Australia were through to the semis and within touching distance of proving they are worthy of their number one Asian status.
Standing between Australia and a place in the final is the quietly effective Uzbekistan. After topping the group featuring the hosts, China and Kuwait, they went on to defeat Jordan 2-1 in the quarters.
Australia should head into the semi final with a great deal of confidence though, after they've beaten the reigning champions. 108th ranked Uzbekistan should not beat a buoyant Aussie outfit but their organised and intensive style of play could frustrate an Australian side gunning for glory.
The Qantas Socceroos now face Uzbekistan at 3:25 am AEDT on Australia day, 26th January.
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