It was the game the Socceroos had to win – and win it they did on Thursday in Adelaide, thanks to a stunning Tom Rogic goal that sent Saudi Arabia home in defeat and lifted Australia one giant step closer to the World Cup.
The 3-2 victory was sealed in the 64th minute when Rogic struck from 30 metres out with a savage, driving left-footer that found the gap between a pair of Saudi defenders.
For a split second the 29,785-strong crowd held its breath as the ball cut a rising angle towards the net and Socceroos’ supporters hearts rose with it.
The keeper never had a chance – and the crowd took a special delight in seeing the visitors put in their place after watching in disbelief as the Saudis took up their positions while their hosts observed a minute’s silence in memory of the two Australians killed in the weekend’s London terror attack.
One of those victims was a hometown girl, Adelaide nurse Kirsty Boden, who was killed by Islamist terrorists as she tried to help the wounded.
The Saudi players were either unaware of what their opponents were doing when standing silent with arms linked and heads bowed, or simply chose to ignore the solemn gesture.
Reports from the ground said some Saudi supporters also ignored the minute’s silence.
Australia just had a minute silence for something I'm not sure & the Saudi players just ignored it, classy & moderate 😐
— liam (@BokoHoginho89) June 8, 2017
But the crowd did not ignore it and roared with delight as striker Tomi Juric scored a first-half brace, twice giving the Socceroos the lead.
But the Saudis twice equalised before Rogic’s thundering match-winner, which could prove the decisive moment in Australia’s bid for direct passage to next year’s World Cup in Russia.
— 9Go! (@9Go) June 8, 2017
With two group games remaining, the Socceroos are now level on points with the Saudis and leaders Japan, who have a game in hand.
The Socceroos meet Japan away on August 31 and then host lowly Thailand on September 5. Win both and they’ll likely sneak into second spot in the group.
The top two nations in the group secure spots in next year’s showpiece tournament, with the third-placed country pitched into playoff rounds.
Juric’s opening goal, in the seventh minute, was gifted by Saudi keeper Yasser Al Mosailem, who slipped when trying to put the ball back in play.
The mis-kick went to Juric, who controlled with his right foot and then volleyed with his left from about 25 metres into an unguarded net.
Australia’s lead was short-lived.
In the 23rd minute, Salem Al Dawsari clinically finished a rapid give-and-go with teammate Mohammed Al Sahlawi which sliced through Australia.
But Juric again gave Australia a lead when he scored his second in the 36th minute.
After Rogic played Mathew Leckie into space, Leckie tore down the right flank and, nearing the byline, arrowed a cross to Juric, who coolly headed into the net.
But in stoppage time, the Saudis again equalised when Taiseer Al Jassam nodded into the path of Al Sahlawi who, with a swinging right foot, beat charging Socceroos’ goalkeeper Mat Ryan.
Australia attacked relentlessly in the second half and were rewarded with Rogic’s moment of magic.