Story highlightsAustralia 2-1 SyriaSocceroos win 3-2 on aggregate
(CNN)One year, two months and 29 days after Syria began their qualifying campaign against Afghanistan, their hopes of reaching a first ever World Cup were finally ended against Australia in Sydney.
For almost 120 minutes of nail biting action, it looked as though a penalty shootout would be required to separate two teams who had been equally matched over two legs. Follow @cnnsport But, after 110 minutes, Australian stalwart Tim Cahill popped up with a 50th goal for his country to send the Socceroos through to the intercontinental play-off. Cahill’s second goal of the game gave Australia a 2-1 victory and a 3-2 aggregate win.In far better conditions than the two teams had encountered in the first leg in Malaysia — a difficult pitch allied to humid weather — many had written Syria off before a ball had been kicked in Sydney.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) October 10, 2017 But any doubts as to whether the “Qasioun Eagles” were in with a genuine chance of continuing their World Cup journey were dispelled after just six minutes.Read MoreMark Milligan’s stray pass in midfield was pounced upon by Tamer Haj Mohamad, who drove at the heart of the Australia defense.The midfielder, who plays for the Dhofar Club in Oman, spotted Omar Al Somah’s run and threaded a through ball into his path.Syria’s star striker took two touches — one to cushion the pass, the second a fortunate bobble — before calmly drilling the ball high over Mathew Ryan in the Australian goal.In truth, the goal was against the run of play. As they did in the first leg, Australia started the match with intent but without much of a cutting edge.READ: Egypt sent into raptures as country qualifies for first World Cup since 1990READ: ‘The Ice Age cometh’ … Iceland qualify for Russia 2018And if the sizable following of Syrian fans inside Sydney’s Allianz Stadium had begun to dream of Russia, they were left deflated just seven minutes later.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) October 10, 2017 Tom Rogic’s pass down the line was curled brilliantly into the box first time by Matthew Leckie. Lurking with intent at the far post, as he has done throughout his career, was the 37-year-old Cahill — coming to Australia’s rescue once again — who headed the ball back across goal past the helpless Ibrahim Alma.That goal injected a bit more confidence into the Australian team and there was now an assuredness and intent to their passing. Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersIceland – With a population of just 335,000, Iceland became the smallest country ever to qualify for the World Cup after beating Kosovo 2-0 on Monday to ensure the islanders topped European qualifying Group I. Hide Caption 1 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersIceland – Trinidad & Tobago, which has a population of 1.3 million, was the previous smallest country to reach a World Cup back in 2006.Hide Caption 2 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersNigeria – Nigeria were the first team from Africa to qualify for the upcoming World Cup, seeing off Group B opponents Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria.Hide Caption 3 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersNigeria – The Super Eagles have only failed to qualify for one tournament — Germany 2006 — since their World Cup debut in 1994.Hide Caption 4 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersEgypt – The Pharaohs qualified for Russia 2018 with a game to spare, topping Group E ahead of Ghana, Congo and Uganda to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1990. Hide Caption 5 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersEgypt – Goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, 44, made his international debut over two decades ago. Now he could become the oldest player in World Cup tournament history.Hide Caption 6 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersGermany – Boasting a 100% record in Group C of European qualifying, Germany could become the first team to retain the World Cup trophy since Brazil in 1962. Hide Caption 7 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersSerbia – Topping Group D of European qualifying ahead of the Republic of Ireland, Wales and Austria, the Eagles qualified for a first major international tournament since 2010. Hide Caption 8 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersSerbia – With six goals to his name, striker Aleksander Mitrovic found the back of the net once every 119 minutes. Hide Caption 9 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersPoland – Poland booked their return to the World Cup after a 12-year absence, topping Group E ahead of the likes of Denmark, Montenegro and Romania. Hide Caption 10 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersPoland – No player scored more during European qualifying than Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich striker scored 16 times at a rate of once every 56 minutes. Hide Caption 11 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersEngland – Undefeated in Group F, Gareth Southgate’s England qualified for their sixth World Cup with a game to spare. Hide Caption 12 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersSpain – Amid the furore of Catalonia’s disputed independence referendum, Spain went undefeated and qualified from Group G of European qualifying with a match to spare after beating Albania 3-0.Hide Caption 13 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersBelgium – Spearheaded by the prolific Romelu Lukaku, Roberto Martinez’s Red Devils dropped just two points throughout the entirety of their Group H European qualifying campaign. Belgium averaged 4.3 goals per game, more than any other team in World Cup qualifying. Hide Caption 14 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersBrazil – Dispelling memories of their dismal 7-1 defeat to Germany at the 2014 World Cup, Brazil topped South American qualifying with ease, finishing ahead of the likes of Uruguay, Chile, Colombia and Argentina. Hide Caption 15 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersBrazil – Neymar, Paulinho, Gabriel Jesus, Philippe Coutinho and Willian scored 23 goals between them. Hide Caption 16 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersIran – Iran became the second team after Brazil to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, topping Group A of Asian qualifying without losing a game. Hide Caption 17 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersIran – Led by former Portugal and Real Madrid head coach Carlos Queiroz, the Iranians will hope to add to their single World Cup win — secured against the US at France 1998 — in Russia next year. Hide Caption 18 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersJapan – With one ferocious sweep of his right foot against Australia, 21-year-old Yosuke Ideguchi booked Japan’s place at Russia 2018. Hide Caption 19 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersJapan – Led by the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, the Samurai Blue topped Group B by a single point to qualify for a sixth consecutive tournament. Hide Caption 20 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersSaudi Arabia – The Green Falcons beat Japan in the final round of Asian qualifying to finish second in a tightly contested group and book their place at Russia 2018. Hide Caption 21 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersSaudi Arabia – This will be Saudi Arabia’s fifth appearance at a World Cup and the first since Germany 2006. Hide Caption 22 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersMexico – Mexico became the first nation from Central American qualifying to reach Russia 2018, only conceding five goals in 15 matches. Hide Caption 23 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersCosta Rica – The Tricolor joined them, qualifying for the upcoming World Cup in dramatic fashion courtesy of a header from Kendall Waston in the fifth minute of added time against Honduras.Hide Caption 24 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersCosta Rica – Oscar Ramirez’s men finished second in CONCACAF qualifying behind Mexico. Hide Caption 25 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersRussia – Host nation Russia qualified for the 2018 World Cup without even having to kick a ball. The most recent competitive fixtures for Stanislav Cherchesov’s men came in the 2017 Confederations Cup, where they crashed out in the group stage. Hide Caption 26 of 27 Photos: Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiersRussia – The draw for the 2018 World Cup is set to take place in Moscow’s Kremlin building on Friday, December 1. Visit CNN.com/sport for more news and featuresHide Caption 27 of 27World Cup drawJUST WATCHEDCopa90: El Clásico – Real Madrid vs. BarcelonaReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH (5 Videos)Copa90: El Clásico – Real Madrid vs. BarcelonaCopa90: Zlatan is the baddest man in footballCopa90: Australia becoming a football nationCopa90: How football conquered Japan Lionel Messi’s journey to greatness Entering the second half, Alma became increasingly busy in the Syrian goal. First, he got down smartly to deny Cahill a second, before he could only watch on as Rogic curled an effort inches wide.As the tension rose it looked inevitable that the game would be heading into extra time, only for a rash decision by midfielder Mahmoud Al Mawas to turned the match on its head. A second yellow card for a late, reckless challenge handed the advantage to Australia at a time when Syria looked to be dealing comfortably with everything their opponents threw at them.After the sending off it was a matter of when, not if, Australia would take the lead. Eventually that goal came and it was that man again Cahill who was in the right place at the right time.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) October 10, 2017 Robbie Kruse chipped the ball back into the box after being found by substitute Aaron Mooy and Cahill leapt high above his marker to nod the ball past Alma’s despairing dive.Arguably Australia’s greatest player, nobody has scored more for the Socceroos than Cahill.Even so Syria were to have one last, agonizing chance to draw level through Al Somah.Stepping up to a free kick 25 yards from goal, with a poise and posture almost identical to that of Cristiano Ronaldo, Al Somah’s effort beat Ryan but crashed off the outside of the post.The rattling of the woodwork signaled the end for Syria and their against all odds World Cup campaign.Australia will now likely face either Panama or Honduras over two legs for a place at Russia 2018 next summer.There will be 32 nations at the World Cup in 2018, with the draw for the tournament to take place inside the concert hall at Moscow’s State Kremlin Palace on December 1.The 2018 World Cup’s first game will feature hosts Russia on June 14 in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.