Australia has started its Olympic qualification campaign with a draw, after Reno Piscopo’s wonder goal was cancelled out by Iraqi super-sub Mohammed Qasim Nassif.
The Wellington Phoenix forward opened the scoring in the 62nd minute – letting loose with a thunderbolt set-piece before Nassif equalised with 13 minutes to play – fending off three defenders before bending his attempt past Tom Glover.
In what was a frustrating affair, the Olyroos failed to create opportunities in open play, with their best chances coming from set-pieces.
There were many recognisable faces in the starting line-up for Australia, with nine of the starting 11 playing in the A-League – Gabriel Cleur (Serie C), Dylan Ryan (Eredivise) and Alex Gersbach (Denmark) the exceptions.
Captaining the side, Thomas Deng set the tone early with a blistering run down the centre of the park, which saw him earn a free kick just outside the area.
The resulting set-piece saw Piscopo narrowly miss his target with a well-struck free-kick – foreshadowing what was to come – before the 21-year-old fired Australia’s first attempt on target from distance in the 14th minute.
Iraq, meanwhile, had their best early chance go astray in the 12th minute when Sadeq Zamil Alsewari’s header inside the six-yard box went straight into the ground and out for a goal kick.
Piscopo would continue to cause problems for the Iraqi defence, with his best opportunity coming in the 17th minute when he was unable to convert an impressive ball across the box from Trent Buhagiar.
The Olyroos did have the ball in back of the net a minute later when Al Hassan Toure slipped the ball past Mustafa Mohammed Maslukhi after a slick Connor Metcalfe through ball, but celebrations were cut short as the Adelaide forward was ruled offside.
Opportunities for the Olyroos dried up after the disallowed goal, which saw Iraq grow in confidence.
A few nervy moments in midfield from Western Sydney Wanderers midfielder Keanu Baccus allowed Iraq to break away – albeit were unable to capitalise on these turnovers in midfield.
Like the Socceroos, the Olyroos looked most dangerous from set-pieces.
Metcalfe showed what he was capable of when his left-footed dead ball attempt from distance nearly snuck past the goalkeeper in the 55th minute.
Piscopo then lifted the hopes of the players and the nation watching on with a sublime set-piece in the 62nd minute to give Australia the lead, with his strike from distance soaring into the top right corner.
Despite failing to create much throughout the game, Iraq did not leave empty handed as Nassif bullied his way through the Australian defence – fending off three players en-route to a perfect finish from just outside the area in the 77th minute.
Australia had an opportunity late to steal the victory when Dylan Ryan’s 87th minute header off a short corner hit the post, before Nassif sprayed a one-on-one chance at the other end moments later.
The Olyroos will now shift their attention to Sunday’s match against Thailand.
Featured Image: The AFC