Milligan heads Australia to Olympic Games

Mark Milligan has led Australia through to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, after they scrounged out a desperate 1-1 draw against DPR Korea in Pyongyang today.

Mark Milligan has led Australia through to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, after they scrounged out a desperate 1-1 draw against DPR Korea in Pyongyang today.

The Sydney FC defender has led by example throughout this campaign and did so again, coming back from an early injury, to head a second half equaliser that ultimately proved enough in the difficult conditions.

The point from the match guarantees Australia top spot of its group, even if Iraq wins its match against Lebanon later tonight.

It-s was by no means pretty football by this talented group of players, but the freezing conditions and artificial, icy pitch, didn-t particularly help the Aussies, who looked uncomfortable at times.

Indeed if not for some wasteful finishing by the North Koreans in the first half, Australia-s Olympic campaign could have been well and truly sunk. But to the Australian players credit, they never gave up in their belief and desire to qualify for Beijing and played much better in the second half and got a deserved equaliser.

The match almost didn-t go ahead after heavy snowfalls yesterday and overnight that left the pitch under a metre of snow. However every effort was made to clear the pitch of the snow and ice and the match was played in clear sunny skies, but albeit, the pitch still remained icy.

It was obvious early that the Australian players were struggling to get to grips with the pitch, the bounce of the ball and the North Korean players, who were full of running early on.

Korea at every opportunity were playing long balls over the top and when Milligan went down awkwardly contesting a header, it looked grim as he clutched his knee. He recovered, but seconds after returning, a good Korean move saw Pak Chol Min go past Australia-s captain, but his shot cleared the bar.

A minute later (10-) though, Korea were ahead, when a long ball from defence, cleared Milligan and Min was able to get into the box and neatly finish over the top of Danny Vukovic. This was the first goal conceded during this qualifying round by Australia.

It was almost 2-0 four minutes later after another long ball over the top, which Vukovic came out to head clear; falling to a North Korean, whose shot was goal bound, but Adrian Leijer was on the spot to clear.

North Korea continued to pepper Australia-s goal with long shots and several crafty moves, as their obvious liking to the conditions was telling. However wasteful finishing in and outside the penalty area, cost the home side… thankfully for Australia.

Australia-s best chance of the first half, came in the 35th minute, after Mark Bridge picked up a North Korean mistake, slipped the ball through for James Troisi. The Newcastle United winger hit a stinging shot, which the Korean keeper parried and was cleared just before Bridge was set to pounce on the rebound.

The second half saw the North Koreans tire considerably, as their energy seemed sap by the big first half and the arduous journey back from Lebanon.

Australia was able to hold possession for longer periods and sustain a bit more pressure, but chances were fairly rare.

Just when you thought the match was not going to be Australia-s day, a free kick was awarded 25 metres out on the left. Given Australia-s aerial threat at set pieces, this was the moment and once again up stepped Milligan.

Kristian Sarkies floated free kick to the back post and found Milligan just a few yards out from the goal line. He headed the ball back across goal, where it appeared to hit the post and go in, although Leijer was also on the spot to make sure it went across the line.

The spirit seemed to go from North Koreans and Australia slowed the game down and were never really threatened from then on, although a late free kick 30 metres out, had a few hearts fluttering nervously until it was cleared.

The final whistle went with much rejoicing among the Australian players, except for Bridge, who only seconds before the final whistle, went down in a lot of discomfort after attempting to block a pass.

The 1-1 draw and qualification for Beijing, maintained Australia-s impressive appearance record at the Olympic Games, making it six straight since 1988.

Match Details

DPR Korea 1 (10') Australia 1 (Mark Milligan 71')

Australia line-up: Danny Vukovic (gk); Trent McClenahan, Adrian Leijer, Mark Milligan (C), Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Leigh Broxham (Nathan Burns 32' (Aaron Downes 93'), Ruben Zadkovich, Kristian Sarkies, James Troisi, Mark Bridge, Dario Vidosic (Nick Ward 65') Subs not used: Tando Velaphi (gk), Nikita Rukavystya, Michael Zullo, Jordan Simpson

Cautions: Nil

Referee: Basma Muhsen (Syria)