AFC Asian Cup: Irvine’s lone goal helps Australia land to knockout stage
DOHA — Jackson Irvine scored the only goal as Australia ground out a 1-0 victory over Syria at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Group B on Thursday to all-but confirm their place in the knockout rounds of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023.
Irvine’s 59th minute goal, his second of the tournament so far, saw Graham Arnold’s side back up their opening win over India with another three points to sit on top of the standings with one round remaining.
The top two teams in each group are advance with the four third-placed sides with the best records also progressing and, with India due to face Uzbekistan later in the day, Australia’s hopes of going through have been significantly enhanced.
Irvine’s close range finish tipped the scales in Australia’s favour almost an hour into a game of limited scoring opportunities, even after the Syrians had given the Socceroos an early fright.
Ibrahim Hesar received possession inside the penalty area and, as he held off the attention of Harry Souttar, rolled the ball for Pablo Sabbag to send a low left foot shot that beat Maty Ryan, only to rattle the base of the post and bounce to safety.
Jordan Bos, starting after a substitute appearance in the 2-0 win over India, then pulled his shot wide from the edge of the area as the Australians were increasingly gifted possession by the Syrians, but struggled to make the most of their opportunities.
Irvine drove a header over the bar after a Connor Metcalfe free-kick that was floated in the direction of Souttar, only for the ball to sail over the head of the Leicester City defender and leave Irvine to miss the target.
Irvine threatened again with 10 minutes left in the half, fractionally mistiming his run at the far post and just failing to make contact as Gethin Jones flicked Martin Boyle’s corner across the face of goal.
Syrian attacks were rare in the first half but when Hector Cuper’s side ventured forward Australia were opened up, with Amar Ramadan pulling his shot into the side netting with six minutes left in the half. Sabbag shot over from 20 yards a minute before the interval.
Boyle’s persistence finally delivered the opener 14 minutes into the second half as the Hibernian winger slipped past Ramadan before finding Irvine and, after turning in the box, the midfielder poked his shot under Ahmad Madanieh to score.
Ryan then survived a scare as the game entered the final quarter, almost spilling Mouaiad Al Ajaan’s looping 30-yard strike over his own line before scrambling to keep the ball out and ensure Australia completed back-to-back wins.
Australia close out their group campaign against Uzbekistan on Tuesday while Syria will have to defeat India to stand a chance of advancing.