THE Socceroos have earned another point on the road to the World Cup, after winging it in the rain of Tehran tonight.
A 1-1 draw with Iraq came after Ange Postecoglou had shocked the Australian fans with a radical new formation, and in truth Australia were lucky to escape with a draw.
Mathew Leckie had opened the scoring just before halftime, and Postecoglou's side had chances in the second half to clinch the win. But after Ahmed Yasin's equaliser, Australia withstood a barrage of attacks for the last 10 minutes amid torrid conditions.
Tomi Juric goes up for a header during the Socceroos v Iraq World Cup Qualifier. Picture: Mark Evans
At times the goal of Mitch Langerak, preferred to Mathew Ryan as custodian, led a charmed life, in a game dominated by the sodden pitch. If a fourth draw in a row leaves the Socceroos deflated, in the context of the match they were glad to hear the final whistle.
In fact this correspondent had jokingly suggested that the open formations and filthy conditions might lead to a 5-4 result, and that could almost have been the score by halftime as each attack traded blows, helped by desperate defending on a sodden pitch.
Australia was the side more on the back foot, and had several frighteningly narrow escapes even before half an hour had been played. Ali Adnan cut into the visiting box early on but blazed over, then Mitch Langerak had to be nimble to turn aside a close-range flick.
Mark Milligan, frantically trying to bring order to the Australian defence as Iraq launched a fusillade of long balls, denied Amjed Kalaf just as the striker seemed certain to score; then Kalaf missed the chance of the game, left all alone at the far post with time to control a skiddy cross, but lofting his shot over.
Australian heartbeats were dangerously high, and it was Aaron Mooy who helped to bring them back down by orchestrating a period of Socceroo possession. Jackson Irvine's shot was tipped over, then Mohammed Hameed in the Iraqi goal did well to gather Mooy's shot.
On 38 minutes Mooy slipped in Irvine for a low cross that just evaded Tomi Juric, but after the resultant corner was cleared for another such setpiece, Australia struck. It was simplicity itself, as Leckie stole in amid the taller players around him to glance home Mooy's corner.
A minute later it should have been two. Leckie fed Juric on the wing, and the striker produced an incisive snaking ball to bypass the home defence and leave Robbie Kruse free. Sadly the winger, off the pace from the start, took too many touches and was denied by Hameed.
Leckie shot over after a finely crafted move which allowed Australia to finish the first half on a high.
Life could have been better still for Postecoglou's side on 53 minutes, as a fine interchange between Kruse and Mooy opened up space for the latter to fire in a low cross - Mooy reached it but could only deflect it wide of the gaping goal.
Still the misses mounted up - this time it was Mohanad Abdulraheem who met a low cross with a twisting low header wide. Iraq's bombardment was incessant, and Langerak produced a brilliant one-handed save from Ahmed Ibrahim's header.
Kruse came off, replaced by Brad Smith, then Tim Cahill replaced Juric as Postecoglou sought fresh energy on such a sapping pitch. But with 75 minutes gone, Iraq were level, deserved reward for their pressure. Again it was a simple move, a steepling pass finding Ali Adnan on the left wing. Unmarked in Postecoglou's new system, he steamed down the left and crossed low to the far post, where Ahmed Yasin slid in with a sliding finish to equalise.
The last few minutes became frantic. Milligan was booked for a clumsy foul, but the freekick was wasted. Troisi replaced Irvine as the exhaustion levels grew, and after a series of scrambles in the Socceroos' box the point was earned.