Socceroos forced to pitch in to secure win
THE Socceroos can thank a terrible pitch for their 2-1 escape away to minnows Kyrgyzstan in their opening World Cup qualifying match for Russia 2018.
Played in front of a carnival-type packed house in Bishkek - in arguably the Asian nation's biggest football game - the Aussies looked like they would run away with the contest in just the first minute.
Skipper Mile Jedinak gave the Socceroos a dream start with his free kick finding the back of the net.
The goal was helped by a horror bounce, landing on a rough part of the goalkeepers' box before sailing over the head of Kyrgyzstan custodian Valery Kashuba.
The hosts then unexpectedly fought their way back into the Asian confederation Group B encounter, and gave Australian goalkeeper Mat Ryan plenty of problems as they threatened an unlikely draw.
That was not part of the script with Australia ranked 63rd in the world, and Kyrgyzstan way down at No.177.
With just a 1-0 lead at half-time, it wasn't until the 67th minute when the Socceroos could finally relax.
That was when substitute Tommy Oar finished impressively after a brilliant long ball by midfielder Mark Milligan.
The home team refused to back down though, and was rewarded in the 92nd minute with a controversial late goal, the referee ignoring Socceroo protests claiming substitute Almazbek Mirzaliev handled the ball across the line.
Australian coach Ange Postecoglou said he wasn't concerned the home side produced 19 shots to Australia's 11, and recorded nine corners to just two.
"I'm happy because we have got through that experience and we have won the game," he said.
"They (the players) will just learn a hell of a lot playing in that sort of environment, because we are going to have to go to places throughout Asia where that sort of atmosphere is common place."
Australia's victory put it level with Kyrgyzstan and Jordan on three points in the group, which also serves as a qualifier for the 2019 Asian Cup.
But this was only the Socceroos' first game of their long road to hopeful World Cup qualification, and they are expected to top their group which also features the lower-ranked Jordan, Tajikistan and Bangladesh.
The Socceroos play again in Perth on September 3 when they will host Bangladesh, which drew 1-1 at home to Tajikistan on Tuesday.
- APN SPORTS BUREAU