Football: Australia beat 10-man Syria in World Cup play-off thanks to veteran skipper Cahill's brace

Australian players celebrates after they defeated Syria in their 2018 World Cup football qualifying match played in Sydney on Oct 10, 2017.
Australian players celebrates after they defeated Syria in their 2018 World Cup football qualifying match played in Sydney on Oct 10, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Veteran striker Tim Cahill scored deep into extra time to take Australia a big step closer to next year's World Cup and end war-torn Syria's fairy-tale run in the Asian confederation play-offs on Tuesday.

Cahill, 37, cancelled out Omar al-Soma's opener in the first half before he leapt to head Australia's precious second goal in the 109th minute for a 2-1 win in the second leg.

After last week's 1-1 draw in Malaysia, where Syria play their home games owing to the ongoing conflict in the country, Australia won 3-2 on aggregate to reach a final play-off against the fourth-placed team from the North, Central American and Caribbean (Concacaf) federation, currently Panama.

Syria have never reached the World Cup and their hopes suffered a massive blow when Mahmoud al-Mawas was sent off for a second bookable offence in the fourth minute of extra time.

As penalties beckoned, Robbie Kruse sent over a cross from the byeline and Cahill out-jumped his marker to power a header past the diving Ibrahim Alma.

There was huge drama in the dying seconds, when Soma juddered the right post with a vicious free kick. But Australia survived to stay on track for their fourth straight World Cup.