Australia’s Christopher Ikonomidis celebrates their second goal during the Asian Cup win against Syria on Tuesday. Image Credit: Reuters

Al Ain: Tom Rogic’s injury-time thunderbolt settled an Asian Cup thriller in Al Ain on Tuesday as defending champions Australia scraped a 3-2 win over Syria to reach the last 16.

The result meant the holders finished second in Group B behind Jordan, who humiliated the Socceroos in their opening game with a 1-0 win.

Australia have been hit by injuries and only had six outfield players on the bench, but they will need to up their game after two unconvincing performances in the tournament so far.

Despite the lacklustre showings, coach Graham Arnold is just glad to be in the knockout rounds of the UAE tournament and was keen to see the positives in the victory over Syria.

“It was a helter-skelter game at times,” he said. “On another night we could’ve scored more goals but it was a great learning process for our young players. It was a good performance just in terms of the grit and determination.”

Syria never looked out of their depth against vastly superior opposition, and fought back twice to level the score before Rogic’s agonising late winner. They would be right to feel aggrieved too that referee Cesar Ramos missed a blatant handball by Australia captain Mark Milligan in the penalty area shortly before their second equaliser.

This raises the question of why Video Assistant Referees (VAR) were not available for the group stages of the Asian Cup and will only be introduced for the quarter-finals.

However, legendary Italian match official Pierluigi Collina, who is in the capital as part of the preparation for the introduction of the VAR system, feels the last eight is the correct time to bring in the video replay officials

“It is a wise decision as far as I am concerned to introduce VAR at the quarter-final stage because this is line with the pool of qualified referees that are available,” he said. “The referees need to have the VAR licence from IFAB (International Football Association Board).

“Working with video technology requires not only the training of the person standing in front of the screen in the Video Operations Room (VOR), but also the training of the referees’ team in the stadium so they know how to interact with the VAR team and how to use the technology effectively.

“We spent a year and a half preparing the referees for the Fifa World Cup to deal with video technology. There were only a few weeks between the decision being taken to use VAR and the start of the AFC Asian Cup so to use the VAR for the whole tournament would have been too risky.”

In the other Group B match on Tuesday, Jordan were held to a goalless draw by Palestine in a fiery clash to preserve their unbeaten record and progress as table-toppers.

Final standings

Group B

Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Jordan 3 2 1 0 3 0 +3 7
Australia 3 2 0 1 6 3 +3 6
Palestine 3 0 2 1 0 3 −3 2
Syria 3 0 1 2 2 5 −3 1