Too close is the only way to describe the Socceroos' 1-0 win against Hong Kong on Monday.
The Australian internationals escaped with the win after veteran Brett Emerton found the net in the dying minutes of the East Asian Cup qualifying match. They advance to face Korea DPR on Wednesday, their first ever encounter with the North Korean team.
Australia is playing for the a spot in the tournament, to be held in July next year, and are competing in a five-nation qualifying tournament also featuring Hong Kong, North Korea, Guam and Chinese Taipei.
Emerton, the Socceroos captain, was more than disappointed in the conditions of the Mong Kok Stadium pitch in Hong Kong- it was so bad underfoot that he was forced to borrow a different pair boots pre-game as his old ones weren’t up to scratch to face such conditions.
Coach Holger Osieck went with a nearly a full strength squad against the lowly ranked Hong Kong (world No.172), including just two of a seven potential debutants in Brisbane duo Ivan Franjic and Matthew Smith.
Emerton’s game-winner, a powerful shot with just six minutes left, proved to be just enough while youngster Tomas Rogic was very impressive in just 10 minutes as a substitute; he made a big impact in the midfield in limited minutes with his speed.
The “cow paddock” of pitch resulted in limited opportunities in front of goal, but Hong Kong's Chan Man Fai threatened with a dangerous breakthrough at the 30 minute mark. Australia almost scored shortly after when an Emerton free-kick reached the penalty box, but keeper Yapp Hung Fai managed a desperate goal-line save.
Australia will need to be far more impressive when the face North Korea (world No.81) who are unbeaten in their previous 11 international fixtures.
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