The Socceroos' inability to finish teams off has cost them dear

Australia must take a long and winding road if it is to make it to Russia in 2018 after it could only finish third in its Asian World Cup qualifying group, despite a 2-1 victory over Thailand in the final match at AAMI Park.

Ange Postecoglou's team will have to face the team from war-torn Syria in the first of two potential play-off ties if the Socceroos are to qualify for the fourth time in a row. The Syrians, who finished third in the other group after scoring a stoppage time equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Iran, play their home games in Malaysia.

Saudi Arabia's 1-0 victory over Japan in Jeddah in the early hours of Wednesday morning ensured that the men from the Middle East would take second place on goal difference from the Australians and thus go directly to the World Cup alongside group winners Japan.

If the Socceroos get through that two-legged fixture in October against the Syrians they will then have to travel to North or Central America for a two legged final eliminator against a country from that region - whoever finishes fourth in the CONCACAF qualifying group.

At present that looks likely to be one of three teams - the US, Honduras or Panama - but there are still games to go and the equation could change depending on results.

An emotional Postecoglou - whose future in the job will inevitably now become a subject of intense debate - and his players could only rue their profligacy and the bad luck that saw them strike the woodwork three times and be denied on numerous occasions by desperate Thai defending.

But the truth is that Australia's inability to finish teams off during this tournament has cost it dear.

The Socceroos lost only once in their 10 games - away to Japan last week - while the Japanese lost twice and the Saudis three times.

Yet because they were able to win the games that matter rather than draw them, it is they, not Australia, who will take the direct route to Russia

In hindsight it was Australia's failure to finish off Saudi Arabia away (where the hosts equalised late in a 2-2 draw), Iraq away (another draw, another late leveller, this time 1-1) and most grievously of all Thailand in Bangkok last November, a 2-2 draw, which hurt their chances so much.

Even on Tuesday night their lack of a killer touch in front of goal was costly: Australia had 45 shots but it was only Mat Leckie's late drive from a corner that even managed to secure three points.

Postecoglou was frustrated, upset and emotional after the Thailand game, lashing out at those who had criticised his players during the 12-month, 10-match qualifying campaign.

A clearly upset and frustrated Postecoglou hit out at the critics who have been on the back of his team as they stuttered through the campaign.

"It's been unbelievable, it's been magnificent and I have been sitting here frustrated for the last two years listening to some of the garbage being thrown around at these players," Postecoglou said after the game.

"It's tough qualifying for a World Cup, it's even tougher when it's your first one for a lot of these guys. We have played 10 games, lost only one, they have done everything I have asked of them. I am the one putting them out there trying to win games of football."

Postecoglou said that he had never been involved in a more lopsided game.

"It's heartbreaking for the players. They were brilliant tonight. They had 40-plus shots and chances just didn't go in. If we had got one a bit earlier it may have opened them up a bit.

"The players didn't get their rewards for a brilliant performance.

"The players really stuck at it, they didn't get frustrated, they were continuing to create chances, we have hit the post three times, a couple cleared off the line... it's a game of inches.

"As the game wore on anxiety crept in, we had to take a couple more risks. They could have become deflated at one each but they showed character and resilience to stay in the game.

"Thailand were resilient, defended desperately but OK, 45 shots, three posts, cleared off the line, if there was a more one-sided contest I don't think I have seen it.

"All you need is 10 per cent to go in and you are talking about a different game."

Angry and overwhelmed by the situation, Postecoglou then thought to say something else but checked himself and simply declared "that's all I will say" before getting up and walking out.

The coach has already come in for a barrage of criticism for his failure to take Australia through directly - something Guus Hiddink, Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck (who was sacked following that achievement to make way for Postecoglou ) - all managed to do.

Former Socceroo and Manchester United goalkeeper and now Fox Sports analyst Mark Bosnich launched an angry tirade after the game, deriding Posteocglou's approach throughout qualifying and his decision to switch to a back three defensive system.

He also suggested that perhaps it was time for Football Federation Australia to dump the man who won them the Asian Cup and look to a coaching change for the crucial play-offs.

"If we go through the play-off route there should be serious consideration given to the fact we need a different voice because those players, regardless of what they're saying publicly, aren't responding like they used to," Bosnich declared.

But his studio colleague, former international teammate and current Brisbane boss John Aloisi defended Postecoglou.

"Look at the Asian qualification route and we've struggled every time - under Pim and Holger.

"We had better players back then. What Ange has done for Australian football, don't ever underestimate. I think we have to back him until we don't qualify."

The story The Socceroos' inability to finish teams off has cost them dear first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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