The Socceroos' World Cup qualifying campaign looked dire after Iraq took the lead in the second half, but headers from Cahill and Thompson righted the ship for Australia
|By DAMIEN SOUNESS
Australia strengthened their hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup with a memorable 2-1 victory over Iraq in Doha on Tuesday.
Goals from Tim Cahill and Archie Thompson in the final 10 minutes saw Australia secure their first win of the qualifying campaign after substitute Alaa Abdul Zahra had given Iraq an unlikely lead.
Australia should have put Iraq out of contention in the match but were instead on the back foot when Abdul Zahra fired a shot past Mark Schwarzer in the 72nd minute.
The Socceroos appeared headed for a second-straight loss but were rescued when Cahill equalised, before Thompson sealed the result minutes later at the neutral Grand Hamad Stadium in Qatar.
The win sees Australia climb to second in Group B with five points, five behind leaders Japan with four matches remaining.
Australia coach Holger Osieck made three changes to the side that lost to Jordan in September, with Sasa Ognenovski, David Carney and Mark Bresciano making way for Matthew Spiranovic, Mile Jedinak and Carl Valeri.
Spiranovic replaced the injured Ognenovski in central defence, while Jedinak and Valeri came into the midfield for Bresciano and Carney.
Australia controlled the tempo early on and made their intentions clear, despite the subdued atmosphere that failed to reflect the significance of the contest.
Alex Brosque headed just wide of the target inside the first two minutes, while captain Lucas Neill thwarted an early attack at the other end.
Neill then came close to scoring his first international goal with a powerful shot from the edge of the area that sailed over the target.
Robbie Kruse was a shining light for Australia, establishing himself as livewire down the right flank and causing problems for Iraq's defence with an intelligent ball that Tim Cahill was unable to convert.
The Socceroos exuded patience on the ball throughout the opening half and were nearly rewarded when Cahill fired a shot that triggered a diving save from Noor Sabri.
Iraq, who were hammered 6-0 by Brazil in a friendly in Sweden on Friday, pushed forward in numbers but barely posed a threat with just one shot on goal in the first half.
Australia begun the second half in similar fashion to the first, maintaining possession but being unable to breakthrough for the opening goal.
Kruse had an excellent chance in the 56th minute but blasted a precise McKay ball just wide of the target, while Neill was cautioned soon after for holding the shirt of Younis Mahmoud.
Neill and Valeri, who was booked in the first half, are both suspended Australia's next game for accumulating two yellow cards in the qualifying campaign.
Neither goalkeeper was genuinely tested until the 72nd minute, when Abdul Zahra stunned Australia with the decisive goal.
Brett Holman gave away possession before a long ball was played into the path of Younis.
He headed the ball down Abdul Zahra, who calmly fired a clean strike past Mark Schwarzer with a classy second touch.
Osieck introduced Archie Thompson for Brosque after the goal before bringing on Tommy Oar for Kruse.
Cahill levelled the contest in the 81st minute with a trademark header from a McKay corner that Noor Sabri had no chance of stopping.
Thompson then registered his third goal in three games, completing a remarkable turnaround for Australia on 85 minutes.
Oar delivered a pinpoint cross that Thompson met with a glancing header, securing a famous victory against the odds.
In the group's other fixture, Oman grabbed their first win of the campaign with a 2-1 defeat of Jordan in Muscat.
The result sees Oman move to third on five points, while Jordan are fourth on four points and Iraq slip to the bottom on two points.Australia play host to Oman next in March, while Iraq take on Jordan in November.