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Last-gasp Australia end Syria hopes

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Jordan through as group winners, Palestine still in contention; Constantine quits India

Australia midfielder Christopher Ikonomid (center), jumps for the ball with Syria midfielder Mahmoud al Maowas (right), during the AFC Asian Cup Group B soccer match between Australia and Syria at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates on Jan 15. (AP)

AL AIN, Jan 15, (RTRS): Tom Rogic smashed home an injury time winner to earn defending champions Australia a 3-2 win over Syria on Tuesday evening and a place in the knockout rounds of the Asian Cup. The Celtic midfielder struck from 25 yards out to see off a determined Syrian side in an incident- packed clash, with victory ensuring the Socceroos advance to the Round of 16 in second place in Group B alongside Jordan. The Jordanians won the group after playing out a goalless draw with Palestine, leaving the Syrians bottom of the group and out of the competition.

Palestine’s draw means they can still reach the round of 16 as one of the four best third-place teams in the new 24- team format. The Palestinians have two points and will go through if enough lowranked teams in other groups draw their games on Wednesday and Thursday. “Tommy is key to what we do with the ball,” said Australia coach Graham Arnold.

“A lot of time we don’t find him when he’s free, but when you get him free and free him up he can do anything. “He’s a wonderful player and a joy to coach.” The Australians soaked up some early pressure before taking the lead in the 41st minute when Awer Mabil netted with a beautiful curling strike from the edge of the area that gave Ibrahim Alma no hope in the Syrian goal.

Australia’s lead, however, was to only last two minutes as Mouaiad Al Ajaan scampered down the left flank to deliver a cross to Omar Khrbin, who scored on the rebound after Mat Ryan saved his initial header from close range. Chris Ikonomidis put the Australians back in front nine minutes into the second half when his first-time shot was judged to have crossed the line by Mexican referee Cesar Ramos despite a desperate attempted clearance by Omro Al Midani.

Arnold’s team had further good fortune on the hour mark when the ball bounced up to hit Mark Milligan on the arm inside the Australia penalty area, only for Ramos to wave away the Syrians’ protests. Ramos, though, awarded the Syrians a penalty 10 minutes from time when Omar Al Soma went down in the box – apparently having been tripped by his own player – and the Al Ahli man converted. Rogic took matters into his own hands three minutes into injury time, however, smashing home his left foot shot from 25 yards to give the Socceroos the points and a place in the next round.

Meanwhile, Stephen Constantine has resigned as India’s head coach after they were knocked out of the AFC Asian Cup following a 1-0 defeat by Bahrain in Sharjah on Monday. Needing a draw to progress to the knockout stage for the first time, India finished bottom of Group A after conceding an injury-time penalty that allowed Bahrain to leapfrog them into third place. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) confirmed on its Twitter account that the former Millwall coach, who took over the job in 2015 for a second stint with the team, had stepped down. “We haven’t received any official communication from him yet but we accept his decision & thank him for his contribution to #Indianfootball,” AIFF general secretary Kushal Das was quoted as saying.

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