Schwarzer goes from villain to hero

Mark Schwarzer, the hero of Australia’s 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign, may well prove to be the difference again, despite only being two games into the 2010 campaign, after playing a leading role in the Socceroos 0-0 with China in Kunming.

Mark Schwarzer, the hero of Australia-s 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign, may well prove to be the difference again, despite only being two games into the 2010 campaign, after playing a leading role in the Socceroos 0-0 with China in Kunming.

And again it was a penalty save that could prove pivotal, as Schwarzer turned from villain to hero in the 89th minute. Having given away the penalty after fouling Qu Bo in the penalty box, Schwarzer guessed correctly and saved Shao Jaiyi shot to his left.

In the end, David Carney should have added further salt into the Chinese players wounds in injury time, when he should have scored from close range, but took too much time to get to the ball and was put off his shot.

The point means Australia remain undefeated after two games, which is exactly what Pim Verbeek was looking for heading into the crucial month of June, when the remaining four qualifiers will be played. Australia will also in all likelihood remain in top spot, depending on the result of the groups 2nd match between Qatar and Iraq, which is being played in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The effort was not lost on Verbeek, who praised the performance of his players and was happy to come away with the point.

“We were very good, I-m very proud of the boys,” he said after the game. “We always like to win, but a draw was probably a fair result.

“After the penalty save at the end, I am very happy with the point.”

Despite all the late drama, the match itself was a rather tepid affair, with China strangely letting Australia have a lot of possession and move out of its own half with relative ease, which played straight into Australia's hands and allowed them to conserve energy.

In the end China were lucky not to finish with 10 men after a terrible tackle by Sun Jihai on Luke Wilkshire right in front of the Australian bench with a little over ten to go, but the Chinese playmaker remarkably went unpunished by the UAE referee.

While much of the talk will be on the final few minutes, both sides did have chances, although they were few and far between.

The match started in much the same way that Australia's fortunes have been going in recent days, with Verbeek bemoaning his luck with injuries. Archie Thompson was forced off in just the ninth minute after copping a rather nasty challenge a few minutes earlier, which earned Xaitong Feng a yellow card and saw Brett Holman enter fray a little earlier than expected.

In the 25th minute, Mark Bresciano was unlucky not to open the scoring, when he was set up by Holman. However Bresciano-s strike at full stretch was hit straight at the Chinese keeper.

China-s attacks were all too fleeting, mainly relying on high balls into the area to unsettle the defence. Zheng Zhi had the first meaningful shot which Schwarzer saved comfortably, while Zhu Ting hit a volley from close range over the bar late in the half.

China pressed with more urgency at the start of the second half, but with Australia-s defence keeping a tight shape they were unable to get any clear shots at goal.

With Australia regrouping and getting more of the ball and China not pressing, the game failed to open up and it looked like the game was safe for Australia.

That was until a long ball for Bo saw Schwarzer come off his line and while he blocked the initial ball, Bo went to ground as Schwarzer played at the ball on the ground and the UAE official pointed to the spot.

However Schwarzer stood tall to regain his composure and make the important save, just like he did during the penalty shootout against Uruguay in 2005 that earnt Australia a place at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.

“It-s definitely a highlight,” Schwarzer said after the match. “I thought the penalty decision was harsh and to lose it then would have been unjust, as I thought we deserved something from the game.

“I think if you look at our preparation and the conditions we had to play in, it-s an amazing result.”

Match Details

China 0 Australia 0

Australian line-up: Mark Schwarzer (gk); Jade North, Lucas Neill (C), Michael Beauchamp, Luke Wilkshire, David Carney, Vince Grella, Carl Valeri, Jason Culina, Mark Bresciano, Archie Thompson (Brett Holman 9-) Subs Not Used: Patrick Kisnorbo, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Mark Bridge, Mile Jedinak, Jacob Burns, Ante Covic (gk)

Cautions: Carney (17-), Holman (79-), Schwarzer (88-)