Tom Rogic smashed home a stoppage-time winner to hand Australia an undeserved 3-2 win over Syria and dump Fajer Ibrahim’s men out of the Asian Cup in heart-breaking fashion.
Omar Al Soma looked to have given Syria a point, and hope of qualification, when he won and then converted an 80th-minute penalty but Rogic had the final say with a stunning left-foot drive that flashed past Ibrahim Alma with virtually the last kick of the game.
Earlier, Awer Mabil and Chris Ikonomidis twice put Australia ahead only for Omar Khrbin and Al Soma to cap a spirited Syria display with equalisers.
Rogic’s late intervention meant Syria finished bottom of Group B with Australia second.
— Socceroos (@Socceroos) January 15, 2019
Australia looked nervous in the early stages with Syria wasting two chances to claim a surprise lead.
Al Soma headed a right-wing cross from Mohammed Osman over the bar before a weak clearance from Mat Ryan offered Khrbin an opportunity he squandered by shooting wide of the left-hand upright.
Referee Cesar Arturo Ramos then twice came to Australia’s rescue, waving away Syrian penalty shouts after Al Soma tangled with Mark Milligan in the box and ruling out a goal from the striker for a foul on the Socceroos captain.
In between, Jamie Maclaren flashed a header across goal after great work from Rhyan Grant.
That opportunity was the first hint of Australia finding a foothold in the game and they continued to offer a greater attacking threat, Maclaren seeing two efforts parried by Alma before Omro Al Midani had to hack a Mabil effort off the line.
Mabil, born in a Kenyan refugee camp, continued his rise to prominence with a wonderful opener four minutes before the break, cutting in from the right and curling a left-footed shot beyond Alma.
— #AsianCup2019 (@afcasiancup) January 15, 2019
If the Australia supporters inside the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium thought that goal would have an adverse effect on Syria they were sorely mistaken as they levelled inside two minutes.
Mouaiad Al Ajaan delivered a pin-point cross ball from left that Khrbin powered home at the second attempt after Ryan had parried his initial header.
Australia regained the lead nine minutes into the second half – Rogic’s in-swinging ball from the right flank eluding the Syria defence with Ikonomidis just managing to get enough on his finish to prevent Al Midani from completing another spectacular clearance.
There were more shouts for a penalty when Milligan, whose display will give coach Graham Arnold nightmares, allowed a routine pass to deflect off his boot on to his arm while, at the other end, Australia substitute Apostolos Giannou crashed a shot against the inside of the post.
Australia’s luck finally ran out with 10 minutes to go, Ryan punching clear a Khrbin free-kick but when the ball was returned into the area, Milos Degenek fouled Al Soma and the striker coolly converted.
Syria sensed their chance and poured forward in search of a winner but were caught by the classic sucker-punch, Ikonomidis finding Rogic who lashed home superbly.
What does it mean? Australia must improve
Australia advance behind Jordan, who played out a goalless draw with Palestine. Arnold will be pleased to have got through but his team will have to perform much better if they are to go deep in the tournament.
Rogic shows class
Rogic’s inclusion in the Australia squad prompted howls of indignation from some Scottish football pundits but the Celtic midfielder showed exactly why he is key to the Socceroos with a composed display in midfield that saw him set up Ikonomidis’ goal before his superb late winner.
Milligan a mistake waiting to happen
While Rogic was calm and measured, the same cannot be said for Australia captain Milligan who produced an error-strewn performance.
Australia advance to a meeting with the runners-up of Group F, either Uzbekistan or Japan, on January 21, while Syria return home.