Kennedy the redeemer seals World Cup spot

Kennedy the redeemer seals World Cup spot


They certainly left it late but Australia are headed to the 2014 World Cup after clinching a dramatic 1-0 win over Iraq at ANZ Stadium on Tuesday night.

The hero of the night was Josh Kennedy, who, in his first Socceroos' appearance for 19 months, headed home the winner from Mark Bresciano's pin-point cross after 82 nerve-wracking minutes.

Until that point, Australia was headed for the unthinkable as Iraq - in an incredibly gutsy performance - managed to stave off the hosts' best efforts.

Flying: Josh Kennedy celebrates after heading in the winning goal for the Socceroos.

Flying: Josh Kennedy celebrates after heading in the winning goal for the Socceroos.Credit:Getty Images

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Though Holger Osieck's side clearly had the better of the occasion, genuine chances were few and far between and the majority of the 80,523 felt they were about to witness a return to the painful botched qualification nights of decades past.

The surge of emotion around the stadium at the full-time whistle was as much relief as jubilation, such was the situation faced by the Socceroos barely 10 minutes earlier.

When Kennedy's header floated past Iraqi goalkeeper Noor Sabri, the entire team - including the whole bench and support staff - drowned the towering striker in a sea of bodies by the corner flag.

It will undoubtedly be remembered as one of this nation's defining football moments and served as fine reminder of why the Socceroos' mental strength, which repeatedly came to the fore in the final stage of qualification, is their greatest asset. It might also be what holds them in fine stead when they head to Brazil.

The Socceroos appeared to have clinched the lead when Robbie Kruse bulleted home a volley with 25 minutes to play but the referee disallowed the goal, controversially paying a foul against Sasa Ognenovski for an earlier infringement.

It wasn't until Kennedy's winner that the crowd had a chance to rejoice. As expected, Osieck selected the same line-up for the third straight match, keeping faith with the team that drew 1-1 with Japan and defeated Jordan 4-0.

Australia pinned Iraq on the back foot from the opening whistle and nearly scored in the second minute when a Kruse's interchange with Tim Cahill gave the latter a chance off his left foot but Sabri tipped the ball wide.

The Socceroos were clearly in control by the time Lucas Neill, somewhat bizarrely, set up Ognenovski, only for his defensive partner to head over the bar. While the Socceroos were pushing forward, as the hour mark ticked past, they still hadn't found a way to breach the stubborn opposition put up by Iraq.

If anything, one had to be impressed at how composed Iraq seemed, despite having five teenagers in their starting side. In particular, the central midfield combination of Khaldoun Ibrahim and the 19-year-old Saif Salman was holding up well, and ensured the possession count - 53 to 47 per cent - said plenty. With half-time closing in, Cahill's overhead briefly raised hopes but the Iraqis - who'd hardly manufactured a chance of their own - were grimly holding on.

However, within a minute of the second half resuming, the Socceroos showed their vulnerability when Salman lashed an effort from range that Mark Schwarzer could only gather at the second attempt.

The rain soon began to tumble around the Olympic venue and a cheer went up around the hour mark as Osieck finally brought on Tom Rogic for Brett Holman, ending a difficult night for the Aston Villa midfielder.

Australia appeared to have broken ahead in the 65th minute when Kruse volleyed home a sensational effort - but Iranian referee Faghani Alireza had already blown for a foul against Ognenovski.

Replays showed there was a questionable degree of contact made by the imposing defender, and some will feel the home side were most hard done by.

Frustrations were starting to boil over and when Kennedy replaced Cahill in the 78th minute, he shared words with Osieck. Cahill angrily waved away the coach after his explanation for being substituted.


Osieck followed up with another change a minute later, bringing on Archie Thompson for Kruse. But just as it seemed the night would end in disaster, Bresciano picked out Kennedy, and the Socceroos were finally on the road to Rio.

AUSTRALIA 1 (Josh Kennedy 83m) bt IRAQ 0 at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 80,523. Referee: Faghani Alireza.

Sebastian Hassett is a football reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.