Australia ended Saudi Arabia’s World Cup qualifying campaign with a burst of three second-half goals in four minutes in a comeback 4-2 win on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia entered the game in second place in Group D, but the loss, combined with Oman’s 2-0 win over Thailand, meant it dropped down to third while Oman progressed to the fourth round of Asian qualifying. The defeat continues a poor run for the Saudis, who didn’t qualify for South Africa 2010 and now have been eliminated at an even earlier stage of qualifying for Brazil 2014.
Australia was already assured of a place in the next stage and top spot in the group, entering the Melbourne match with a six-point lead.
Nassir Al Shamrani gave the Saudis a 2-1 just before halftime but his missed chance from in front in the 72nd proved to be costly as the Australians replied immediately with three quick goals.
Salem Al Dawsari opened the scoring for Saudi Arabia in the 19th minute before Alex Brosque equalized for the hosts in the 43rd.
Nasser Al Shamrani put the visitors back ahead in first-half stoppage time. However he spurned a good chance in the 72nd minute, and that was the cue for Australia’s onslaught.
Japan-based Brosque provided the last pass for Harry Kewell’s left-footed equalizer in the 73rd, making it 2-2.
Brosque scored again in the 75th and Brett Emerton made it 4-2 with a sliding goal a minute later, leaving Saudi Arabia’s coach Frank Rijkaard shaking his head in disbelief at the sudden reversal of fortune.
Australia captain Lucas Neill, who had a goal disallowed on a borderline offside decision midway through the second half, praised his squad for responding positively in the second half and said they could now focus on the main aim of qualifying for Brazil.
Mark Bresciano had a big influence in midfield in his first match for Australia since the 2010 World Cup.
”We just showed the character of the Socceroos,” he said, ”always fighting, never giving up.”
Australia: Mark Schwarzer; Lucas Neill, Matthew Spiranovic (David Carney, 82), Jade North, Sasa Ognenovski, Brett Emerton, Mark Milligan, Harry Kewell, James Troisi (Archie Thompson, 63), Alex Brosque (Nick Carle, 87), Mark Bresciano.
Saudi Arabia: Waleed Ali; Osama Hawsawi, Abdulla Al Dowsary, Kamil Al Mousa, Mohammad Al Shalhoub (Naif Hazazi, 79), Nassir Al Shamrani (Yasser Al Kahtani, 72), Hasan Fallatah, Saud Kariri, Ahmed Al Fraidi (Ahmed Ateef, 66), Taiseer Al Jasam, Salem Al Dawsari.