‘No way in the world’: Socceroos ride their luck to the top of Asian Cup group
The Socceroos were far from impressive for a third straight match at the Asian Cup but thanks to a bewildering gift from the match officials secured a 1-1 draw with Uzbekistan to top Group B.
The point was enough for Uzbekistan to finish in second, with Syria third after beating India.
Martin Boyle dispatched a penalty in first half injury time after a brilliant mazy run from Kusini Yengi.
The Portsmouth forward – preferred over Bruno Fornaroli to lead the line in the absence of injured Mitch Duke – beat four defenders and put a chance on a plate for Riley McGree who somehow dragged his shot wide.
But the game was paused for several minutes while VAR looked at a moment in the lead up where Odiljon Hamrobekov slid in to challenge Yengi and the ball brushed his arm.
A young eagle-eyed Australian fan appealed for the handball – but none of the Socceroos did – a clear sign of how soft the ultimate call was from referee Yusuke Araki.
Andy Harper, on the Network 10 commentary, said he would be “aggrieved” by the call.
His colleague Luke Wilkshire, a former Socceroo said: “No player appealed for it, no one saw it. It’s a little brush off the hand. There’s no way in the world that’s intentional and again VAR raises its head and wants to be the deciding factor.”
The goal came at the end of an underwhelming first half where Australia produced little up front and made several poor passes out from the back leading to Uzbekistan half chances.
Once Harry Souttar gave up the ball in a dangerous position only to swoop back with a desperate and crucial tackle.
The giant Leicester defender was also alert to block Otabek Shukurov after the Uzbekistani had found plenty of room to shoot.
Uzbekistan were much improved after the break and their equaliser was deserved. It arrived on 78 minutes when Azizbek Turg’unboyev rose above Aziz Behich to head home a cross from Jaloliddin Masharipov.
Australia have lacked zest throughout the tournament – despite wins and clean sheets against India and Syria – and this was a difficult match against a foe the pressed hard to prevent Australia passing through midfield.