Yet another ordeal for Socceroos fans, but somehow we scraped through.
In fairness we were the only team in it for most of the match, but that means bugger all when the Gods of Football throw their infernal dice: the penalty shootout.
Two people had the biggest influence on this result. One was Maty Ryan with a brilliant one-on-one save in the 10th minute and then two outstanding saves in the penalty shootout.
And the other? I’ll get to him…
It wasn’t a match for the ages. The Socceroos would have wanted an early goal to settle their nerves (and mine) but their adventurous style against Palestine and Syria was abandoned in favour of a much more conservative game – partly (I reckon) inspired by the punitive manner of the referee.
In the end he only handed out five yellows but he certainly threatened more in the early phases. His decision to give a yellow card to Tom Rogic for no reason at all was ridiculous – worse than ridiculous, some might even say suspicious (although not me, I can’t stress that enough).
It rules him out of the quarter final against the hosts (UAE). There really ought to be an avenue of appeal for a yellow card so wrongly given, with such tournament changing potential.
So a nervous and tentative Australia were a lot slower moving the ball and the road train parked in front of their goal by the Uzbeks proved impregnable.
I do think it’s time to give Apo Giannou a start. Jamie MacLaren has had a few goes without making much impression – he might be better off the bench. Giannou would have made his case for a start stronger if he’d managed to get on the end of Rogic’s far post ball at the end of regulation time, but I think he’s done enough with limited opportunities.
Awer Mabil was quieter than the group phase matches but Chris Ikonomidis continues to impress. He didn’t get the runs he needed from his colleagues.
Most eyes were on Matt Leckie's much-anticipated return from injury and he definitely sparked us on the hour mark. After having to play twice as long as expected, he’ll be much better for the run.
As for the other penalties – Milligan set the right captain’s example. Aziz Behich looked very nervous and didn’t hit his shot hard enough. The oft-maligned Robbie Kruse’s penalty was outstanding in its confident placement into the top corner. It gave us the initiative after Ryan’s first save.
Giannou’s penalty was also calmly dispatched (as a striker ought to do) and Leckie’s winning penalty - under so much pressure - was reminiscent of John Aloisi’s famous shot into the side of the net.
But in the end, the game was won by Mat Ryan. What a good keeper he’s become. I remember the howler he let in on a rainy debut for the Central Coast Mariners against Sydney FC, but within a handful of games I was starting to invite scorn by telling people he’d play for Australia once Schwarzer was finished.
I loved his first save, I’m always saying to young keepers; ‘Stand your ground at penalties. It’s amazing how many get hit down the middle.’ He did so for the second shot and it paid off.
Then he made an unbelievable save, going fast and low to his right to get his wrist to a pile-driven pen. Just brilliant.
So now we move forward – Rogic-less – to a quarter final against the host nation. Even without big Tam we ought to prevail – probably with Luongo keeping his place and Irvine at number 10.
But strange things happen in Asia – have you noticed Australians aren’t allowed to jump in the final third? Time and again we were penalised when defenders collapsed under the slightest contact. This totally does my head in because football is a contact sport and you are allowed to jump for headers.
It’s also very clear that we don’t have many friends over there. Have a look at the crowd in the background after Leckie’s penalty went in. I couldn’t see a single person applauding.
We are strangers in a strange land and I reckon it’ll be about 30,000 against 11 on Australia Day morning.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.