MASSIMO Luongo and his Australian team-mates still have plenty to do if they are to reach the final qualifying round to make next year’s World Cup in Russia.
The Socceroos were held 1-1 by Syria at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Malaysia.
Robbie Kruse fired Australia into a first-half lead but a late penalty from Omar Al Soma gave Syria a deserved draw with next Tuesday’s fixture in Sydney now evenly poised.
Despite his excellent start to the season with the R’s, Australia’s manager Ange Postecoglou decided to leave Luongo on the bench for this crucial fixture.
After a tense opening 20 minutes, Australia began to enjoy more of the ball as the half went on and took the lead when Matthew Leckie burst down the right and crossed low to Kruse who expertly flicked the ball past Syrian goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma.
The Socceroos had a couple of chances to extend their lead but their finishing was wasteful and The Qasioun Eagles, who have never qualified for a World Cup, slowly began to come back into the game.
With 20 minutes remaining Luongo entered the field in place of goal-scorer Kruse but he could not change the flow of the game as the Syrian’s went closer and closer to equalising with Brighton goalkeeper Matthew Ryan tipping a fine shot onto the post.
With seven minutes remaining their pressure was rewarded when Leckie pushed Al Soma in the air to earn a penalty, with the forward dusting himself down to convert from 12 yards.
The two teams will face each other again next Tuesday with the winner to play a side from North and Central America for a place at Russia next summer.