Photo: Cahill’s 50th goal for his country sealed Australia’s progress to the final round of World Cup qualifying
BBC SPORT – Syria’s unlikely 2018 World Cup dream is over after Australia progressed to the final qualifying round courtesy of Tim Cahill’s extra-time header.
Omar Al Somah gave the civil war-torn nation hope of reaching Russia when he gave them an early lead in Sydney.
But Cahill, 37, quickly equalised with the first of his two headed goals.
Syria, who drew 1-1 in the first leg, were reduced to 10 men when Mahmoud Al Mawas was sent off before Cahill nodded in Robbie Kruse’s cross for the winner.
Australia will now play either Panama, Honduras or the US from the Concacaf section for a place in the finals.
Omar Al Somah gave Syria a 2-1 lead on aggregate at the ANZ Stadium
Syria were given real hope of reaching their first World Cup finals when a loose Mark Milligan pass let Al Somah charge through to score a sixth-minute opener with a low left-footed shot.
But Hertha Berlin winger Mathew Leckie engineered parity for the hosts when he provided the perfect cross for former Everton midfielder Cahill’s first on 13 minutes.
The introduction of Huddersfield Town midfielder Aaron Mooy from the bench was then pivotal.
Australia manager Ange Postecoglou surprisingly left the 27-year-old out of his starting line-up, but the home side were instantly improved when he came on just before their equaliser.
Indeed it was only Syria goalkeeper Ibrahim Almeh’s heroics that denied Celtic’s Tom Rogic and Leckie from sealing Australia’s progress in the second half.
Syria defended resolutely and admirably got to extra time, but their task became harder when Al Mawas saw red for a second booking for bringing down Kruse.
With penalties looming, Cahill produced a trademark last-gasp header, his 50th goal for Australia – more than any other player for the country.
Even a man down, though, the visitors almost snatched an equaliser to take the tie to penalties when Al Somah’s free kick hit the post in the 121st minute.
We keep working until we can’t anymore – Milligan
Tim Cahill became the 59th player in history to score 50 international goals
Socceroos and Melbourne Victory midfielder Milligan hailed the work ethic of Cahill and the rest of the team as they took a step closer to Russia 2018.
“Timmy (Cahill) worked outstandingly. That is something we have in us. We work until we cannot anymore,” said Milligan.
“I didn’t mean to give it away (before Syria’s goal). It was a loose pass. I could have hit it a bit harder but they punished us with the quality in their striker.
“The longer the game went on, we had a good stranglehold on it. They fought with everything, they were outstanding and gave us an extremely tough match on our home soil.
“The next round will be a different match, we will have a different challenge on our hands.”
There were huge crowds in Syria’s city to follow the national team’s fortunes
Syrian state TV broadcasting was dominated by coverage of the country’s match against Australia.
It aired special programming with live footage of huge crowds in Damascus’s Umayyad Square, Aleppo, Homs and Sweida.
Shadi Helweh, usually the channel’s war correspondent and who famously covered the landmark recapture of the city by government forces in December last year, reported on the huge crowds in Aleppo.