Australia are just one win away from a berth in Tokyo 2020 after they overcame a nervy second-half to defeat Syria 1-0 in the quarter-finals of the AFC U23 Championships.
After a blunt opening 90 minutes, Al Hassan Toure proved the hero for Head Coach Graham Arnold’s side when he burst behind the Syrian lines in the first half of extra-time to get on the end of a pass from fellow substitute Aiden O'Neill and slide the ball home.
Australia, with a crucial extra day of rest, will now prepare themselves for a date with destiny in the tournament’s semi-final early on Thursday morning.
Whereas previous fixtures had been highlighted by a dearth of early shots, Australia signalled their intentions early against the junior Qasioun Eagles when Ramy Najjarine fired an effort across the face of goal in just the third minute of play.
Three minutes later another chance arrived when towering defender Tass Mourdoukoutas was picked out on a corner from Reno Piscopo, with the Wanderers man subsequently forcing a save from Mohammed Ourabi with his head.
But the Syrians quickly answered back with the best chance of the first half when Mohammad Al Bari, chasing a ball looped over the top, muscled Mourdoukoutas off the ball and advanced one-on-one with goalkeeper Tom Glover – with only the trailing leg of the City keeper denying the Syrian youngster the opening goal.
After setting up Mourdoukoutas earlier in the contest, Piscopo then looked to do it himself in the 21st minute when, after linking up on some combination play with striker Nick D’Agostino, he launched a long-range effort over the bar from range.
A scramble around the Australian penalty area on the hour mark, where Glover was seemingly fouled by Abd Al Rahman Barakat only for play to continue, led to multiple shots from the side in red that were blocked away before Australia had shouts for a clear penalty denied five minutes later after Kamel Hameesheh cleaned up Najjarine.
Neither side was able to create much in the way of clear chances as the second half progressed, as the proved Syrians unable to take the slight edge that they held over the control of the contest and convert it to goals, and extra time was needed.
Just seconds into the additional football the goal that the Olyroos had been desperately searching for should have been delivered when substitute Trent Buhagiar was played through by Piscopo, only for the Sydney FC attacker to send his shot straight at Ourabi.