Australia secured its place at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil on Tuesday, with a late strike from Josh Kennedy firing it to a tense 1-0 win over an under-strength Iraq at Stadium Australia.
It was an unconvincing victory in front of a sell-out 80,000 crowd, but ensured the Socceroos will appear at their third consecutive World Cup, alongside Japan which is already through from Asian Group ‘B’ qualifying.
The result put Australia on 13 points, out of reach of Oman (nine points) and Jordan (seven points).
Meanwhile, Iran beat South Korea 1-0 to enter the 2014 World Cup at Ulsan but the host also qualified on goal difference despite a heroic effort by group rival Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan beat Qatar 5-1 in Tashkent but, needing to win by seven goals, failed to overhaul South Korea for the second automatic qualifying spot in Group A. The former Soviet Republic now goes into a play-off series.
Australia wasted countless chances in wet conditions before coach Holger Osieck replaced a visibly angry Tim Cahill with Kennedy in the 77th minute.
But the towering Nagoya Grampus striker justified the substitution when he saved the day with a clinical 83rd minute header that sent the crowd wild.
“I’m proud of everybody. It’s been a really hard campaign, but we showed our mental strength,” captain Lucas Neill said.
“I’m sorry it wasn’t pretty, but we beat them.
“We’ve got to keep pushing ourselves,” he added. “Let’s look at the positives tonight — we’re going to Brazil!”
The results: Asian Zone: Australia 1 (Josh Kennedy 83) bt Iraq 0; South Korea 0 lost to Iran 1 (Reza Ghoochannejhad 60); Uzbekistan 5 (Bahodir Nasimov 60, 74, Oleg Zoteev 72, Odil Ahmedov 87, Ulugbek Bakaev 90+1) bt Qatar 1 (Abdulqadir Ilyas 37). — AFP