A precious away goal has put the Socceroos in the driving seat to reach the final stage of World Cup qualifying after a 1-1 draw with Syria in Malaysia.
With five minutes to play on Thursday, Australia were on the cusp of a best-case-scenario away win in the first leg of their cut-throat play-off tie.
But a controversial late penalty goal to Omar al-Somah gave the war-ravaged nation the equaliser they craved to cancel Robbie Kruse's 40th-minute opener at Malacca's Hang Jebat Stadium.
— OptaJason (@OptaJason) October 5, 2017
Nevertheless, the vital goal and clean sheet could prove the difference when Ange Postecoglou's men host the second leg in Sydney on Tuesday.
With that match in mind, coach Ange Postecoglou left Tom Rogic, Massimo Luongo and Jackson Irvine on the bench and gambled with the greenest members of his squad.
It paid off handsomely.
Uncapped Matt Jurman, thrust into a three-man defence alongside Trent Sainsbury and Milos Degenek, looked like an old hand.
Trimmed-down right-back Josh Risdon, capped just three times, was a hive of industry at right wing-back and relieved a high-playing Mat Leckie of his defensive responsibilities.
That re-jig bore fruit five minutes before the break, when Leckie blazed to the right byline and cut inside to turn a defender and let rip, Kruse timing his run perfectly to divert the shot home.
Under the weight of last month's failure to qualify directly for a fourth straight World Cup, a bobbly pitch and a sea of red to break down, the Socceroos had their work cut out.
The steady display yielded chances, Tomi Juric twice hitting the post in consecutive shots and Leckie somehow skying a sitter with ample time.
Captain Mark Milligan, who endured extra attention all night, pulled the midfield strings alongside Aaron Mooy and unwound from 25m to force a full-stretch save from Syrian goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma.
But Syria brought the pace, and none were more searing than Al Somah.
As Australia searched for a killer second goal, the danger man and his cohort amped up the pressure, slicing through the Socceroos' defence with increasing regularity and forcing a succession of corners and free-kicks.
Mat Ryan, hardly called upon in the first stanza, was suddenly in the firing line and made a string of saves including one superb injury-time effort to deny Syria the win.
But there was nothing the Brighton and Hove Albion gloveman could do when Syria were awarded a penalty after contact from Leckie on Al Somah, who duly converted from the spot.Suggest a correction