Socceroos, Saudis fight out thrilling draw
Photo Source: AAP
Australia's World Cup qualification path has become a whole lot trickier after a pulsating 2-2 draw with Saudi Arabia that has turned Group B into a bottleneck.
Controversial striker Nasser Al Shamrani scored in the 80th minute to salvage a point for the Green Falcons in front of a raucous crowd at Jeddah's King Abdullah Sports City.
For the Socceroos, it is a missed opportunity.
Ange Postecoglou's side were on course for a come-from-behind win, trailing after just five minutes but taking the lead through goals from Trent Sainsbury and Tomi Juric.
It leaves Australia undefeated on top of Group B with seven points - but only ahead of Saudi Arabia on goal difference, with Japan and the United Arab Emirates one point behind and tied for third.
Tuesday's World Cup qualifier in Melbourne against Japan - who beat Iraq 2-1 overnight thanks to a 95th-minute winner - will have even greater importance.
"I thought we were fully deserving of hitting the front. We just couldn't hold on," Postecoglou said.
"We lost a little bit of composure in the last 10 or 15 minutes when we really should have just played out the game and taken out the three points.
"We're disappointed we didn't win the game."
The Socceroos made a nervy start in front of 51,616 screaming Saudis and looked rattled when midfielder Taiseer Al Jassam put away a cutback from Yaha Al Shehri to open the scoring.
But with the home side seemingly content to sit back and defend their lead, the Socceroos eventually settled and took control of the game, owning 55 per cent of possession despite energy-sapping heat and humidity.
Just before the half-time break, Sainsbury rose highest to nod home an Aaron Mooy corner - Australia's first for the match - to bring a hushed silence across the stadium.
Saudi coach Bert van Marwijk produced his trump card early in the second half, sending on Al Shamrani, banned for eight games for spitting at Western Sydney's Matt Spiranovic in the 2014 AFC Champions League final, for his first international appearance in two years.
He made an immediate impact, and along with Nawaf Alabid forced Spiranovic into a heroic double-block to keep scores level.
Juric's 71st minute goal, tucking away a neat Robbie Kruse cross, looked to have snuffed out the Saudi surge.
But Australia's lead lasted just eight minutes as Al Shamrani managed to get a foot on a shot from Hassan Muath Fallatah to add further intrigue to this stage of World Cup qualification.
Van Marwijk said it was a "maximum result" for Saudi Arabia, who haven't made the World Cup finals since 2006.
"We did not deserve to win the game. At the end, 2-2 against a strong Australia ... I think a draw is OK," he said.