2018 WORLD CUP QUALIFYING
United Arab Emirates 0
SYDNEY • Australia boosted their football World Cup qualifying hopes yesterday with a tense 2-0 win over the United Arab Emirates, whose under-pressure coach Mahdi Ali announced his resignation after the football match.
Goals from Jackson Irvine and Mathew Leckie handed Australia a crucial victory, which kept them in touch with the top two spots in Asia's Group B and an automatic berth at Russia 2018.
It ended a run of four successive draws and sent the 27,328 fans at the Sydney Football Stadium home happy despite a far-from-convincing display from Ange Postecoglou's side.
It was a tight, niggling encounter with a total of 42 fouls, 26 committed by the home side, but the first of five yellow cards was not shown until the 80th minute.
The Asian champions remain three points behind group leaders Japan, while Saudi Arabia could take the lead on goal difference by beating Iraq in the late game.
The top two from the group qualify directly for next year's Finals with the third-placed team offered an alternative route to Russia via two play-offs.
"Everyone stressed the importance to us before the game and it was just about keeping calm and composed and taking our opportunities when they came," Australia skipper Mile Jedinak said.
"We squandered a few chances and might have got the second goal a little bit earlier, but in the end the boys delivered tonight and that's all we can ask."
While Australia lived to fight on, there were tears in the UAE camp with their qualification hopes now looking remote.
Former coach Ali, with a talented squad at his disposal, had come under increasing criticism during a campaign which appears doomed after four defeats in seven games.
The UAE opened their campaign with a stunning win over Japan in Saitama but a fourth loss since means they are now four points behind the leading trio and clinging to slim hopes of claiming third place.
Australia midfielder Irvine, who plays for Burton Albion in the English Championship, gave the Socceroos a sixth-minute lead with his first international goal.
He attacked James Troisi's corner and had a free header into the UAE goal.
But the UAE remained dangerous with their talismanic playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, the Asian player of the year, forcing a flying save from goalkeeper Mat Ryan in the 17th minute.
The Australians failed to make their passes stick in the first half, while Abdulrahman was fouled six times, underlining the threat he posed.
Australia were on top in the second half but it took until the 78th minute before they killed off the UAE with their vital second goal. A Troisi corner was thumped home by a leaping Leckie, who scored a similar goal against Iraq last week.
UAE-based midfielder Mark Milligan received his second yellow card in the qualifying phase and will now miss Australia's next qualifier against Saudi Arabia in Adelaide on June 8.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS