The Socceroos' World Cup dream remains intact after a late goal secured a 2-2 draw with Oman in Sydney
|By JOHN GRECO
Australia have avoided a huge World Cup qualifying setback, fighting back from two goals down to snatch a 2-2 draw with a spirited Oman at ANZ Stadium on Tuesday.
The Socceroos appeared to be heading for an embarrassing – and potential fatal – home defeat when Oman raced into to a 2-0 lead four minutes into the second half.
But a trademark Tim Cahill header and a bullet 85th-minute strike from Brett Holman spared the home side's blushes and ensured their hopes of getting to Brazil are still very much in their own hands.
Despite producing one of their poorest performances on home soil in some time, the Socceroos almost stole all three points in stoppage time.
Cahill, who was a handful from set pieces all night, rose highest to meet Luke Wilkshire's corner but, impressive Oman captain Ali Al Habsi clawed it away to safety to ensure the visitors a commendable point on the road.
The draw keeps the Socceroos in second spot in their group, level with Oman on six points, although Jordan could leap-frog both sides if they defeat Japan when they meet later on Tuesday.
The suspension of captain Lucas Neill meant it was a new-look central defensive pairing of Robbie Cornthwaite and Michael Thwaite for the Socceroos and they were caught cold inside six minutes.
Australia's defence was caught square from a harmless lofted ball over the top, with Abdul Aziz out-pacing Thwaite to the ball.
Socceroos goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer did his best to narrow the angle but Oman's striker poked the ball through his legs to give the visitors a shock lead.
While Australia were enjoying large periods of possession, their passing was often too sloppy or slow to penetrate a well-organised Oman defence.
Indeed, Australia's best chances of a poor first half came from set pieces.
Mile Jedinak, who struggled to impose himself on the match, leapt highest to meet Wilkshire's free-kick on 25 minutes, but his effort sailed across the face of goal and wide.
The home side did finally force Al Habsi into a save eight minutes before the break.
Cahill timed his jump perfectly to nod back Matt McKay's centre into the path of Holman but his powerful header was well saved by Al Habsi.
Holger Osieck would have demanded an immediate response but the Socceroos gave themselves a mountain to climb when they conceded again three minutes into the second half.
This time it was all their own doing.
A quickly taken Oman free-kick allowed Raed Saleh to get free down the right and his powerful, low cross was turned into his own net by a despairing Jedinak.
But just as it seemed the Socceroos's chances were done, they hit back almost immediately through Cahill.
Wilkshire swung in a pinpoint corner from the right, with the former Everton man using his impressive spring to get up high and divert his header into the corner of the net.
All of a sudden the home side found verve and should have been level five minutes later, but Al Habsi did well to make himself big when Alex Brosque looked like pouncing.
The Socceroos went even closer on the hour mark.
Wilkshire's shot from the corner of the box took a deflection, with the ball looping over Al Habsi, but agonisingly for the home side it hit the crossbar and then the upright and bounced away.
Oman were struggling to deal with Cahill's threat in the air and he went close to equalising on two occasions from corners, but each time found Al Habsi too hard to beat.
Just when it looked like Australia were running out of ideas, Holman delivered what could be a priceless goal.
Substitute Tommy Oar did well to keep the ball in on the left, releasing to Holman who unleashed a dipping shot from 25 metres out that slipped under Al Habsi and into the net.
Cahill's late chance almost won it for the Socceroos but they had to be content with a hard-earned point in front of just under 35,000 fans.