There would be no repeat of the result in Sochi in 2018. In front of a large Peruvian equivalent in Qatar, Australia pulled off a 0-0(5-4) penalty shootout victory.
Peru had gone into this fixture as warm favourites. Los Incas finished fifth in a tough South American qualifying section. More impressively, they finished fourth in the Copa America last July.
Australia had looked less than convincing in their last two fixtures, despite recording victories. Frankly, the performance didn’t matter tonight; it was all about the result. Here is how it all went down
AUSTRALIA 0 (5) PERU 0 (4)
Australia had the ascendancy in the first half. Things started promisingly with a defence-splitting ball in the opening 90 seconds. Unfortunately, nothing came from it. Mitch Duke had two sighters inside the opening ten minutes, as well. Peru grew into the game as they focused most of their attack down their right-hand flank.
There were no genuine chances to speak of, as both sides felt each other out early on. With some tasty challenges flying in, there was an air of inevitability when the first yellow card came out at the 12-minute mark. Australia had the game’s first corner. Aaron Mooy whipped it in and Jackson Irvine headed over. Not long after, Martin Boyle burst between two defenders, but couldn’t find someone to finish when he sent the ball across the box.
That was the end of any real rhythm that the game had in the first half. Peru slowed the game down with some classic South American tactics. It was clear they had no interest in having an open, end-to-end, attacking classic with Australia. Los Incas took their time at every opportunity. Goal kicks, throw-ins, free kicks and any other chance presented to the Peruvians took the maximum amount of allotted time. How the referee added just a single minute of added time, I do not know.
Australia continued to be a threat down their right-hand side as the clock ticked down toward half-time. Peru continued likewise but just couldn’t create any chances. As the halftime whistle blew, the scoreboard read 0-0.
Peru started the second half more adventurously. They had consecutive corners inside the first five minutes of the second half, but Australia dealt with them comfortably. The game was definitely becoming more open at both ends. Matt Leckie and Jackson Irvine played a 1-2 that came to nothing and the ball ricocheted out to Aaron Mooy. Mooy took a shot from outside the box, but it failed to trouble Peru's keeper, going harmlessly wide. Peru dominated the play. All the big chances fell to the Peruvian MNT, but Australia’s defence was stoic.
In the 65th minute, Peru coach Ricardo Gareca made the first tactical change. He withdrew André Carrillo and brought on DC United’s Eduardo Flores. Just a few minutes later, Graham Arnold returned serve as he utilised his bench for the first time. Arnold brought Awer Mabil into the fray, replacing Mitch Duke just as Peru had their best chance of the game. As the clock ticked down toward the eightieth minute, Australia was visibly tiring, but Peru just wasn’t polished enough to take advantage.
Awer Mabil played a terrific pass to Aziz Behich in the 85th minute. The Aussie left-back danced past a couple of Peru defenders and sent his shot wide. It was the Socceroo’s best moment so far in the 2nd half. Another chance went begging for Australia from Ajdin Hrustic after a fortuitous pass found Awer Mabil again.
Despite the time-wasting tactics employed by the Peruvians, the assistant board showed just three added minutes at the end of the 90 minutes. Australia had a fair penalty shout turned down by both the on-field referee and VAR as the clock ticked down on the second half. The referee’s whistle signalled we were heading into extra time.
The extra thirty minutes began with Peru getting a couple of early half chances. Aussie hearts were in mouths as Ajdin Hrustic stayed down for an extended period after a tackle from a Peruvian defender. Hrustic could continue. The game was certainly more open than it had been during the initial 90, with the ball going from end to end. There weren’t too many chances to speak of. Edison Flores grew into the game for Los Incas and was looking like a serious threat to Australia’s World Cup chances.
The two teams switched sides for the second half of the extra period. This was becoming nail-biting stuff. Christian Cueva had a huge chance not long after kick-off, set up by Edison Flores, who was becoming more and more influential. It was Flores again as he hit the woodwork. Australia, clearly panicked, just could not clear the ball from the defence before the ball harmlessly went out for a goal kick.
The final ten minutes of the extra thirty fell into a familiar rhythm. Players started dropping like flies with cramps as we headed into the lottery of penalty kicks. Channelling his inner Thomas Tuchel, Graham Arnold switched out captain Mat Ryan in goals for penalty expert Andrew Redmayne. In a more conventional swap, Craig Goodwin was brought on for Aziz Behich as well.
PENALTY SHOOT OUT
Australia would feel disappointed they couldn’t get the result in the preceding 120 minutes, but it just wasn’t to be. With the controversial substitution that saw Mat Ryan come off for Andrew Redmayne, the Aussie goalkeeper was always going to be the big story.
After Martin Boyle had his kick saved and Luis Advincula hit the post, the shootout went into sudden death. That’s when Graham Arnold’s decision to bring on the grey Wiggle, Andrew Redmayne, paid dividends. Redmayne danced on the line, as is his way, and dove the right way to prevent Alex Valera’s penalty and send Australia into the World Cup.
Mitch Duke spoke for all Australians in his post-match interview. The shootout was panic-inducing and I am sure we can forgive him for dropping an F-bomb on live TV at 7 am in the morning.
A visibly emotional Australian coach, Graham Arnold, paid tribute to his players. “No one knows what these boys have been through to get here”. After thanking all and sundry, Arnold caught himself and thanked his wife. “Sarah, we did it! We are going to the World Cup”.