Australia‘s Tomi Juric (left) and Thailand‘s Adisorn Promrak (right) in action during their World Cup Group B qualifying soccer match in Melbourne on Tuesday. (AP photo)
MELBOURNE – A nervous Australia lineup wasted dozens of opportunities and needed a late winner to edge Thailand 2-1 on Tuesday and maintain hope of gaining automatic entry to the World Cup.
Australia moved into second place, meaning Saudi Arabia has to win at home against already-qualified Japan to overhaul the Socceroos for the second direct spot from Group B. The Saudis entered the last matchday in Asian qualifying tied with Australia with 16 points but with a superior goal difference.
The top two teams in each group go directly to the World Cup, and the third-place teams go into a playoff for a shot at an intercontinental qualifier.
The Australians went in with an attacking mindset but were unable to capitalise on almost three-quarters of the possession in the first half, when they twice hit the post and forced two good saves from Thai goalkeeper Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool.
Tommy Rogic hit the post again in the 67th minute, Australia‘s 24th shot, two minutes before Tomi Juric finally broke the deadlock when he nodded in a cross from Aaron Mooy.
Pokklaw Anan got a surprise equaliser for Thailand against the run of play in the 82nd, but Mathew Leckie ensured Australia‘s win in the 86th with a left-foot drive from close range after Sinthaweechai failed to punch the ball clear of the goalmouth.
“A little bit frustrating,‘‘ Juric said. “Leaves us in a position of waiting for another result to go our way.
“Obviously, the win is what we need, but we needed more goals for the goal difference. That was the frustrating thing tonight — it could have been five, easily.‘‘
Australia was unbeaten in qualifying until it lost at Japan last week, a result that ensured Japan secured first place in Group B and a spot in Russia next year. Thailand finished last in the group with two points.
In Group A games with direct World Cup spots at stake later Tuesday, already-qualified Iran was hosting Syria and South Korea was travelling to Uzbekistan.