And with that, let’s call it a night. Australia face China at 2am AEDT on Wednesday. It’s going to be a huge game. The Socceroos could really do with getting back to winning ways, after defeat to Japan and now a home draw with Saudi Arabia. See you next time. Here’s Emma Kemp’s report in the meantime:
And finally, a word with Socceroos coach Graham Arnold.
“Overall we played well. We created the chances but they didn’t go in tonight. I think a little bit of frustration set in that with the time wasting and the tactics from the Saudis. You know we have to learn to be better with that. I think that was when we started, or they got a couple of their chances.
“It is what Matty [Ryan] is there for, to save those goals. It was a time of frustration and things. A lot of these boys are putting in a lot of commitment and effort. I was proud of them.”
Arnold confirms that it’s Harry Souttar’s knee that forced him off. “He’s got to go for scans tomorrow morning. I cannot really say until we know those scans.
“We are in a great position still. Ten points and five games. Now we go to the second lot of five games and we beat China. We are in a fantastic position. It is all about one game at a time and making sure that we are ready for the next game.”
And here’s Martin Boyle, who like Leckie ran his golden socks off tonight.
“You can see [the frustration] in the faces. It was that final bit, we didn’t have enough execution. They threw a bit at the end to us. We played well. Still a long way to go.
“This is perfect conditions for me, which is great. It is perfect conditions, the ball moves along the ground beautifully. A great stadium and pitch. The fans came out in their numbers and spurred us on.
“[Milking contact] might have been part of [Saudi Arabia’s] game plan. You have to get on with it. It be frustrating at times.
“Tuesday is massive for us. We can put that right on Tuesday night. It is part of the journey. We are looking forward to it.”
Leckie says it was great to be back in front of fans once again: “It’s been so long and the first time playing in this stadium, which is a great stadium. The pitch was perfect tonight. Yeah, like I said, it is just unfortunate we didn’t get the three points to celebrate with the fans. They were loud. They were cheering us all game and we definitely heard it. We appreciate it."
Here’s Mat Leckie, who put in a shift tonight: “Well, obviously we wanted the three points, playing at home it, it has been so long and we wanted three points for the fans and to put us into another good position to compete and get closer to Saudi. I think the boys, we had a great performance today. It was just the centimetres that stopped us from scoring a couple of goals. I am proud of the boys. I think we put in a great effort. We didn’t get the three points.
“There were inches in it. A few crosses where I was a few centimetres from someone getting on to it. They defended well as well. And that double opportunity after the free kick, the keeper pulled off a great save. Still a positive performance. We created chances. On another day we score.”
There’s more than a hint of disappointment for the Socceroos with this result, although a share of the spoils is probably fair. Australia dominated the first half, but lacked a cutting edge and they were nearly made to pay for it after a late surge from Saudi Arabia nearly produced a breakthrough goal for the visitors. The Saudis were impressive as the second half progressed and they remain top of Group B with a cushion of three points. We will await the rest of tonight’s results - particularly the match involving Japan - but Australia’s game against China next week is now huge.
Full-time: Australia 0-0 Saudi Arabia
90+4 mins: All over at CommBank Stadium! It ends goalless in the rain!
90+3 mins: Nabbout cuts inside before pinging the ball towards Duke, but he catches his fellow substitute on his heels and the move breaks down.
90+1 mins: McGree slings it in... it drifts all the way through to Nabbout, who lets fly! Wide of the mark, and that could well be that.
90 mins: Into injury time - three minutes of it to be played - and Behich wins a free-kick after a kick at his heels from Al-Muwallad. Perhaps one final chance here?
89 mins: Nabbout gets yellow-carded. Not sure what for. Play goes on with the Saudis moving forward.
88 mins: Is there a twist in this tale yet? Saudi Arabia are in the ascendency, but they may have left it too late to grab all three points. You feel they’ll be pleased with a share of the spoils though.
87 mins: Australia make two more changes - McGree and Dougall on for Hrustic and Boyle.
86 mins: Down to the other end... Nabbout sends over a dangerous cross but again there’s no one there to convert.
85 mins: Al-Dawsari! Again Ryan is forced into action! A leaping fist denies Al-Dawsari and the Saudis this time!
83 mins: Here they come again. Ooh! That could have been it! Al-Shehri’s glancing header skids inches wide of Ryan’s post! The Socceroos breathe a huge sigh of relief as Ryan gestures for his teammates to calm down.
82 mins: Australia are walking a tightrope here as Saudi Arabia finally come into the game as they seek a deliver late hammer blow.
81 mins: Ooh! Al-Dawsari finds his way through the Socceroos defence and only a combination of a fairly weak shot and some decent positioning from Ryan prevent Saudi Arabia taking the lead!
80 mins: Ten minutes remaining...
78 mins: Kanno finds Al-Dawsari beautifully on the Saudi left, skidding the ball across the slippery surface. You love to see that in these kinds of conditions.
77 mins: Souttar’s stretchered off, and yes Degenek comes on in his place. A second change is made as Andrew Nabbout comes on to replace Leckie, who’s put in a decent shift.
76 mins: Souttar went down in all that action, and it doesn’t look good for the defender. He’s going to have to come off. Degenek will replace him.
75 mins: Ryan comes to the Socceroos’ rescue! He saves from Al-Faraj, after the Saudi captain holds off Souttar and gets off a shot on target!
74 mins: Grant gives the ball away but that’s a poor effort from Mohammed Kanno, who blazes well over Ryan’s bar.
73 mins: The Saudis make their first change of the night: off goes Al-Brikan and on comes Saleh Al-Shehri.
72 mins: Nasser Al-Dawsari gets forward now, but his cross is way overhit and the ball sails all the way over the Australian box and out of play for a throw on the other side.
71 mins: Boyle beats his man on the right now; Nasser Al-Dawsari resorts to fouling the Socceroo. Pretty cynical that one, but the ref keeps his card in his pocket this time.
70 mins: Behich looks for Leckie on the left-hand side, but the striker can’t take the ball in his stride, instead only managing to help it on its way out of play. Saudi goal kick.
69 mins: Things are heating up on the pitch, and you just get the feeling at this point there’s a goal in this match yet.
68 mins: 23,214 is the crowd tonight - not bad for a rainy Thursday in Parramatta.
66 mins: Here’s Mitch Duke, on for Mabil, who so nearly broke the deadlock moments earlier with that sweetly-struck free-kick.
65 mins: Mabil! Super save to deny the Socceroos! Boyle is there on the follow up! Another save from Al-Yami! The ball skews off a defender and behind for a corner!
64 mins: It takes Boyle ages to get to his feet, and after all that, we’ll have a Socceroos free-kick, about 30 yards out. Hrustic over it again... and Mabil.
62 mins: Al-Bulayhi joins his central defensive partner Al-Amri in the referee’s book for a stud on the foot of Boyle, who goes down apparently in some pain.
61 mins: Straight down to the other end and Al-Muwallad has a great chance for Saudi Arabia! But like Irvine, he miskicks and the chance goes begging!
60 mins: Moments later Irvine has a shooting chance but the midfielder mis-hits it and Al-Yami is not called into action again!
59 mins: Leckie! Close to the opener for Australia! After using his strength to see off his marker he is foiled by a great save by Al-Yami!
58 mins: Leckie involved again here. Saudi players want a yellow card after the Australian is a bit late on Al-Malki. There was nothing malicious in it though.
56 mins: Wow, Al-Amri hits the deck like a sack of spuds after Leckie pushes him over. Al-Amri was trying to prevent Leckie taking a quick throw. Yellow, the first of the match, for the Saudi defender.
54 mins: Mitch Duke is also on the bench for Australia tonight, along with the aforementioned Jamie Maclaren.
52 mins: A rare chance for the Socceroos! Boyle gets to the byline and sends a cross fizzing across the face of goal - in behind keeper Al-Yami - but there’s no one there to stick it in!
50 mins: Boyle, like Irvine a few moments ago, is remonstrating now. The difference, the Socceroo was in the wrong there.
A couple of emails! “Thanks for your commentary,” writes Gerard Clancy. “I’m an Irish Saudi Arabia fan living here in Jeddah. It’s a mild 30C here and sunny, nice winter day. In the truest Irish fashion I am hoping for a mud-splattered 0-0 draw. To say our crowd here in KSA are unused to rain is an understatement to say the least.”
49 mins: Irvine wins the ball from Al-Malki, but the Australian midfielder is pulled up for a foul. He can’t believe it, but he’d better - the ref’s not going to change his mind.
48 mins: Hrustic pings another beautiful ball to Mabil, but again the winger can’t get the better of his marker.
47 mins: An early throw to Australia gives Grant the chance to sling in a long one, but not until he’s dried the ball with a towel. He finally launches it, but the flick-on is cleared by the Saudi defence.
Second half underway
46 mins: Here we go again then. No changes to tell you of at the break. It’s still tipping it down.
Australia certainly had the better of a fairly hectic opening period, but they have nothing to show for it at the break. Indeed, they rarely threatened the Saudi goal, and will need to find a more clinical approach in the second half if they are to break down the group-leading visitors. Don’t go anywhere.
Half-time: Australia 0-0 Saudi Arabia
45+2 mins: There goes the whistle. Are they boos? Weird. Not sure who they were from, or to whom they were directed. Goalless at the break.
45+1 mins: Hrustic takes it.... headed clear at the first. The ball comes back to the Australian midfielder, but again his delivery lacks height and it’s headed clear for a second time.
45 mins: Perhaps there’s one final chance here for the Socceroos to grab a goal before the break as Grant wins a corner.
43 mins: Behich is befuddled by the conditions here as the ball zips off the pitch, straight past the left-back and out for a Saudi throw.
42 mins: Irvine plays in Leckie who in turn fires across towards Boyle, who flings himself at the ball, but in truth is miles away from it.
40 mins: Players sliding in all over the show here. Jeggo wins a throw as the first half draws to a conclusion.
38 mins: Mabil again is fed on the Socceroos’ left, but he’s left frustrated once more by Al-Amri.
37 mins: Boyle goes in early on Al-Dawsari, and the Saudi dangerman is again given no time or space. He’s yet to stamp his mark on this game... that’s not to say he won’t.
36 mins: Mabil with the ball again on the Socceroos’ left. But again he can’t make anything of it, as his early cross is blocked by a green shirt.
35 mins: It finds Mabil, who cuts inside and has a crack on goal. But it lacks accuracy and the ball balloons way over Al-Yami’s bar.
34 mins: That’s a loose ball from Jeggo, gifting Saudi Arabia possession. It’s OK though, as they win it back soon enough.
33 mins: Nice vision from Mabil who finds the onrushing Behich on the left. Behich gives it back to Mabil, but the move breaks down soon after .
31 mins: Irvine and Al-Faraj clash in the middle of the park... the Saudi captain comes away with the ball, although he didn’t seem to know where it was.
30 mins: Half an hour gone, and still goalless in Parramatta. Australia have enjoyed the better of the opening skirmishes, but they are yet to really test the Saudi keeper.
29 mins: Boyle plays the ball across to Hrustic, who has a pop first time, but he doesn’t catch as well as he’s capable of and Al-Yami is not troubled. Half a chance though.
28 mins: Al-Malki makes a tremendous double tackle, sliding on the greasy surface, and a kerfuffle breaks out soon after over nothing much at all. Tempers cool as quickly as they flared, and we can all move on.
27 mins: Australia look largely comfortable at the back so far (he types, inviting the liveblogger’s curse).
26 mins: Hrustic whips in a deep cross, but there’s too much height and bend on it, and the ball flies well wide of the Saudi goal frame.
25 mins: Al-Amri falls to the floor after attempting a bicycle kick clearance. There doesn’t seem to be much contact, but he gets his wish of a free-kick.
24 mins: Well this is something you don’t see often - a foul throw! From a professional footballer! Nasser Al-Dawsari is the culprit and replays are no less forgiving than the original!
23 mins: Ryan collects the ball easily enough after Al-Dawsari’s radar fails him.
21 mins: No, Hrustic fails to get much elevation on his kick and the Saudi defence clears. Offside flag is up anyway. Disappointing for the Socceroos.
20 mins: Boyle wins a free-kick now with Al-Dawsari pulled up for a foul. Danger here with Hrustic and Boyle over it.
19 mins: Leckie now nearly gets his head onto a superb cross into the Saudi box from Behich on the left flank!
18 mins: Andy Harper has just likened Martin Boyle to a virus. In a positive way. I think.
16 mins: Ooh, a heart-in-the-mouth moment from Saudi keeper Al-Yami - risky stuff from him and he acknowledges that to his teammates as they all breathe a sigh of relief.
13 mins: Al Faraj with a shooting chance now! But Souttar puts his body on the line to make a crucial block!
12 mins: What a lovely ball from Hrustic to Grant on the right hand side, but the full-back can’t quite get to it and actually goes down under a challenge. Perhaps the slick surface was to blame for that.
10 mins: Al-Dawsari gives an indication of what he’s capable of now and the ball flashes across the face of the Socceroos’ box. They’ll need to watch him tonight.
Correct. Apologies, was getting overexcited. US games to come at the end of the month.
9 mins: The ball is switched from left to right, to Boyle who picks it up and hoons forward. He’s eventually checked, but Hrustic keeps it going with a lovely crossfield ball to Mabil. A few stepovers from him don’t fool the Saudi defence though, and the move loses it momentum.
8 mins: Jeggo flies into a challenge and is pulled up for a foul. The Saudis haven’t really had time to settle on the ball so far.
7 mins: Saudia Arabia in green shirts and socks, with white shorts tonight by the way, Australia also in their traditional kit with green shorts and gold shirts and socks.
6 mins: It’s tipping it down in Parramatta - did I mention that? The ball skids off the slick surface and Leckie won’t get onto that long through ball, which is claimed by keeper Al-Yami.
5 mins: Hrustic lets off a shot on goal now, blocked on the edge of the Saudi box though. Arnold wanted his team to get at the visitors early, and that is exactly what they are doing so far.
4 mins: Still the Socceroos press - this game has shades of the Matildas-US clash at this venue the other week already. Hectic start.
3 mins: Hrustic floats a ball into the Saudi box, finding Leckie, but the can’t quite get the ball under control and the visitors are able to clear their lines.
2 mins: Here is the Saudi skipper Al-Faraj, who is muscled off the ball in the middle of the park. The camera cut to Renard, who is attempting to do up one of those aforementioned buttons. A little too revealing, perhaps?
1 min: Australia on the front foot immediately, as Boyle and Hrustic link up on the right before the ball falls to Grant, who tries his luck from distance. Over the bar this time, but that’ll certainly get the crowd into this one early.
First half under way
1 min: Saudi Arabia get things underway!
Advance Australia Fair blasts out, and now it’s time for the Last Post ceremony, followed by a minute’s silence. And finally to kick-off...
Here come the Socceroos to a rapturous reception, swiftly followed by Saudi Arabia. First up, the Welcome to Country, and now the Saudi anthem.
The teams are lining up in the bowels of CommBank Stadium, ready to step out onto the pitch. Mat Ryan is at the head of the Socceroos column. Hervé Renard is already out of the tunnel and in the Saudi dugout. He cuts a cool figure in a crisp white shirt with the top buttons daringly undone.
A tick under 10 minutes to kick-off now. The stadium is filling up with plenty of plastic rain coats - the rain continues to fall in Parramatta.
Not to go on too much about home advantage, but it is a thing. Or at least, that’s what Graham Arnold would have us believe (even though the Socceroos enjoyed their record-breaking streak without home comforts). Here’s what he had to say on Wednesday:
“They [the Saudis] have have been fortunate [in] that they’ve played all their World Cup qualifiers at home except for Oman. We’ve played 11 out of 12 games away from home, they’ve played 11 out of 12 games at home.”
Here’s Emma Kemp with more on that:
Saudi Arabia arrived in Sydney at the weekend, and since then they’ve made it clear they intend to head back home with all three points. They’re full of confidence, rightly so, given their current form.
“We have beaten stronger teams than Australia, and with the current group of players we are able to return from there with full points,” said Saudi defender Ahmed Sharahili, who starts on the bench tonight.
Read John Duerden’s full story below:
And here’s Hervé Renard, the wily fox (apologies) who coaches Saudi Arabia.
“I think it is a good weather to play think it is a good weather to play football. The most important is to football. The most important is to play in the beautiful stadium with a play in the beautiful stadium with a good crowd. So, we have to be ready.
“We have almost 3,000 fans from Saudi. So it will be important and I’m sure they will push behind us, but we are they will push behind us, but we are ready.
“We are improving a lot. We won 20 places in the Fifa rankings. So step by step we are going forward, but the most important thing is to reach the World Cup 2022 at the end.”
Weather check. You could call this perfect weather for football. There’s been light rain this afternoon in Sydney and it’s currently raining in Parramatta - a slick surface is guaranteed. Ideal for knee-sliding goal celebrations and such like.
Graham Arnold has spoken on Channel 10.
“I’ve worked hard to build depth since I’ve taken over this job and Leckie will step in. Leckie looks in great shape. He’s very positive about his physique and where he is at. It is what it is. We get on with it and we make sure we put in a fantastic performance.
“It has been a while. The nerves are there, but it is more excitement. It is more the adrenalin is going through me at 100mph and I can’t wait.”
The teams are in. Changes aplenty (well, four) for Australia with Aaron Mooy absent due to club commitments, and Tom Rogic and Adam Taggart both injured. Mat Leckie returns after making himself unavailable for the last two matches while Awer Mabil, who started on the bench last time out, comes back into the starting XI. James Jeggo also comes into the side while Rhyan Grant replaces Fran Karacic at right-back in an otherwise unchanged back line.
For Saudi Arabia, left-back Yasser Al-Shahrani is out, as is central defender Abdullah Madu. But the big inclusion is dangerman Salem Al-Dawsari, who has missed the last couple of games.
A homecoming like no other. At least it will be for Socceroos defender Fran Karacic, who before this week had never set foot in Australia, despite having made five appearances for his country. The Brescia right-back, who was born in Croatia, qualifies as his father has Australian citizenship, but since breaking into the national team has not had the chance to play at “home” given the Covid pandemic.
“It’s my first time .. it’s great,” he said yesterday while doing what every first-time visitor to Australia does - pay a visit to the zoo and get acquainted with some koalas and kangaroos. “To see Australia, to see Sydney … I’m happy they are bringing some part of Australia to us like the koalas and kangaroos. I hope in the next years I’ll have more time to visit Sydney and Australia and spend more time here.”
If a week, as the saying goes, can be a long time in football, how long exactly is a period spanning 109 weeks? The Socceroos last played on home soil a total of 763 days ago, an eternity in footballing terms on the long and winding road to Qatar. But here they are now, in the western suburbs of Sydney, back in front of their fans, hoping to recover from a defeat in Japan last time out and get their World Cup qualification campaign back onto a winning track.
The 2-1 loss in Saitama was Graham Arnold’s first in 12 matches, and saw his side cede top spot to unbeaten Saudi Arabia in Group B of the third stage of Asian qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. Victory tonight over the new group leaders would claim it back and put the home side in a strong position to finish as one of the top two - and automatically secure a place at next December’s competition in Qatar. Defeat, however, could have huge ramifications for the Socceroos’ qualification hopes - Japan and Oman are lurking ominously just three points behind them, with games against bottom sides Vietnam and China respectively to come later tonight.
It all points to a crucial 90 minutes ahead, and a tough examination of Arnold and his team’s credentials against a Saudi side on the up under the guidance of Frenchman Hervé Renard and seeking a ninth straight win. Kick-off in Parramatta is about 45 minutes away. In the meantime, feel free to get in touch either on email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter @mike_hytner.