Australia followed in the footsteps of group rivals Japan to secure qualification for the 2010 World Cup with a 0-0 draw against Qatar in Doha on Saturday evening.
Pim Verbeek's men have now secured their place in South Africa, though Bruno Metsu's side are now mathematically out of the race for third spot and a play-off place, Bahrain now set for a second chance at qualification.
Qatar made a bright start in Doha and certainly weren’t phased by their more reputable opponents, dealing with Australia’s rather direct approach relatively comfortably early on.
Centre-back Bilial Mohammed Rajab was imperious during the first half, leading by example with a series of crunching aerial challenges on target man Joshua Kennedy.
Meanwhile, Sebastian Quintana was unsettling the Australian back-line with intelligement movement and it was indeed he to whom the first chance of the game fell on 18 minutes.
The striker latched onto an intelligent cross-field ball that cleared the head of ball-watching duo Scott Chipperfield and Chris Coyne, allowing the ball to bounce in the penalty area before volleying just past Mark Schwarzer’s far post.
The Everton man then hit the woodwork with an acrobatic effort nine minutes later, though he appeared to be in an offside position as his bicycle kick smacked Oasem Burhan’s right post after Joshua Kennedy flicked on a Marco Bresciano free-kick.
It signalled the start of a dominant period for the visitors, Galatasaray man Harry Kewell showing the sort of form that has made him a hit in Istanbul this season, beginning to beat Qatari defenders almost at will.
His burst down the right flank on the half-hour mark almost brought about the opener, skipping past Ibrahim Majed before toe-poking the ball toward the near-post, only to see the effort blocked and rebound off him and over the crossbar.
Two minutes later and he repeated the move, this time turning Shami Zaher before seeing his weak effort cleared unconvincingly to the edge of the area by the ‘keeper’s legs, from where Carl Valeri’s half-volley was deflected over the crossbar by Rajab.
Qatar though had the best chance before the half’s end, Quintana seeing his half-volley from just over six yards out deflected over the crossbar by the flying body of a desperate Tim Cahill, after Rajab had been allowed to knock the ball down to him at the far post.
After another encouraging start to proceedings, Bruno Metsu’s men were wasteful with their end product and almost fell behind just ten minutes in, Tim Cahill’s knock-down by a Bresciano corner finding Chris Coyne in front of ‘keeper Burhan.
The Colchester United man almost scored his first international goal, turning the ball toward the far corner of the net from where Mesaad made a crucial clearance off the line.
Two minutes later and it was Cahill at the centre of the action, latching onto an unconvincing clearance on the edge of the area and firing a half-volley toward goal that was superbly beaten away by Burhan.
Qatar’s shot-stopper was fast becoming the centre of attention, moments later forced to tip away a miscued Joshua Kennedy cross from the top left hand corner of the net.
Kewell was next to test him, cutting inside Mesaad and unleashing a right-footed strike that was palmed away sharply from the top corner.
The Turkey-based winger remained Australia’s main attacking threat, robbing Al Bloushi late in the game but seeing his effort dragged wide of the right upright from the edge of the penalty area.
Despite needing a victory, a prolonged period of pressure never eventuated from Qatar as Australia secured their place in South Africa comfortably amidst subdued celebrations on the Socceroos bench.
Chris Paraskevas, Goal.com