Australia maintained their unbeaten record in the latest round of Asian World Cup qualifiers with a 2-0 win over Bahrain at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney yesterday. Midfielder Mile Sterjovski broke the deadlock when he scored in the 55th minute and left-back David Carney sealed the Group One win with a goal in the 88th.
Bahrain are still in the hunt to reach their first World Cup but need a point from their last match against Uzbekistan next week to be absolutely sure of making the play-offs.
Australia fielded a mostly second-string team having already secured their place at next year's World Cup in South Africa when they held Qatar to a goalless draw in Doha at the weekend.
After a slow start the home side took control of the match in the second half despite squandering a series of chances to win by a bigger margin. "I think we created enough chances to score more than two goals," the Australia coach, Pim Verbeek said. "We were probably not really sharp enough to finish it off. A lot of new players came into the team but if you win the game 2-0 I think you've done everything you have to do."
Despite making seven changes to the starting line-up, the Australians extended their impressive record of not conceding a goal in any of their seven games so far in the last stage of qualifying. They play Japan, who have also qualified for South Africa, in their last group match in Melbourne next week.
Australia struggled in the first half, with striker Scott McDonald missing a golden chance to score, but they took control after the break. Sterjovski pounced on a defensive error to score then Carney reacted quickly to poke home a rebound after a bicycle kick by Jason Culina hit the post.Australia were unlucky not to score a third with Harry Kewell also hitting the woodwork.
That prompted goalkeeper and stand-in captain Mark Schwarzer to launched a spirited defence of the team's tactics after they were criticised during the qualifiers for not scoring enough."I'm extremely proud [of] the way the whole team and management have gone about their job the whole campaign, they've been extremely professional," Schwarzer said. "I think if we can push on again against Japan and keep another clean sheet, we can't do any better than that. It's very hard to understand how difficult the conditions [in Asia] are at times. You need to go away and just get the job done, sometimes it's not pretty."
South Korea drew 0-0 with Saudi Arabia yesterday after the visitors had Ahmed Ateef sent off in the 80th minute following a second yellow card. They had reached their seventh consecutive World Cup finals on Saturday after beating the United Arab Emirates 2-0 in a Group Two qualifier. The second automatic place for Asia Group Two comes down to a head-to-head match between North Korea and Saudi Arabia in Riyadh next week.
Japan ended Qatar's faint hopes of a place at the finals with a 1-1 home draw yesterday. The Japanese had already booked a spot in the South Africa tournament by beating Uzbekistan 1-0 in Tashkent last weekend. They went ahead after just three minutes in Yokohama courtesy of an own goal from Ahmed Ali Albinali but Qatar equalised through an Ali Yahya penalty in the 53rd minute.
Goals Australia have scored in their seven final stage World Cup qualifiers.