Opinion: All in the head for Socceroos against Iraq

It should be no surprise where Australia's winner inevitably came from, according to Tim Palmer, and nor that it arrived in typically late fashion

In the end it felt almost inevitable.

This was a fixture that last featured a Australia comeback with goals in the 80th and 84th minute, and the clash before that saw Harry Kewell net in the 118th minute of extra-time.

Coupled with the fact that this was a qualifier in Sydney, the scene for Mark Schwarzer's heroics in that famous 2005 penalty shoot-out against Uruguay, late drama was always going to be on the agenda.

Even the manner of the goal was predictable. This was the fifth time in succession Iraq conceded a header to an Australia player - a remarkable run that dates back to 2007, when Mark Viduka nodded in Brett Emerton's cross to briefly level the scores in the group stage of the Asian Cup.

Since then, Tim Cahill and Archie Thompson had previously netted with their head, but never, somewhat ironically, had Australia's tallest player Joshua Kennedy.

That all changed in a heartbeat, with Kennedy springing upwards to meet the delicate cross from Mark Bresciano.

By that point, the Socceroos had become increasingly desperate, pouring men forward and forcing Iraq back towards goal.

The away side had nothing to play for but hung on desperately, and the more they dropped deep, the more they invited crosses into the box.

Earlier, Australia had tried to play more sophisticated football.

Keeping with that midfield partnership of double Marks - Mark Milligan scrapping for loose balls as the more defensive component, and Bresciano given licence to burst forward and launch attacks - the Socceroos tried to build up play positively, starting from the back and looking to play down the flanks towards Tommy Oar and Robbie Kruse.

It was the latter’s flank - the right - that looked most promising early on, as had been the case against Jordan last Tuesday.

Then, the Bayer Leverkusen-bound winger had caused Jordan's left-back, Basem Fathi, great consternation by darting into deep, central positions and dragging him upfield before quickly spinning in behind to meet through-balls.

Here, the ploy was less successful, partly because Ali Adnan tracked Kruse diligently, and partly because Iraq's left winger Dhurgham Ismail made sure to follow right-back Luke Wilkshire's movement from deep positions.  This prevented him from providing Kruse with service.

The issue of service was then exaggerated by the fact that Iraq's 4-3-3 formation matched up against Australia's 4-2-3-1 perfectly in midfield.

Khaldoun Ibrahim, the deepest midfielder, could track Brett Holman, while Milligan and Bresciano were pressed by the two more advanced players in Iraq's midfield triangle.

An exciting opening twenty minutes gave way to stagnation.

Holger Osieck was bold in his use of the bench.

Having been widely criticised for his substitutions in previous qualifiers, he made sure to introduce Tom Rogic earlier against Iraq.

The Celtic playmaker, impressing in his ten-minute cameo against Jordan with his deft touch and creativity, replaced Holman on the hour and sparked the side almost immediately.

His first touches were scruffy, sloppy and led to goal kicks, but eventually he found his rhythm in that central attacking role, darting either side of Khaldoun to give Australia additional attacking thrust.

Although Kennedy scored the winner, it is difficult to say how significant his introduction was.

In fact, it had more of an effect on the home crowd, who were dismayed at the withdrawal of the talismanic Cahill.

He did, however, give Australia a renewed physical target up front, and as the Socceroos increasingly drove forward, his height became increasingly important.

Including the energetic Archie Thompson, Osieck's subs helped lift the tempo of the game.

Eventually, inevitably, thankfully, Australia found a breakthrough.

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