The Socceroos' World Cup qualification hopes hang in the balance after a controversial VAR decision denied them a crucial victory against China.
Socceroos coach Graham Arnold bemoaned a "sloppy" display that leaves his side facing a much tougher journey on the road to next year's World Cup after being held to a 1-1 draw.
'DISGRACE': Socceroos fans rage over 'shameful' scenes
However, it was China's contentious equaliser - and the intervention of VAR - that many Aussie fans were left fuming about after the match.
China were awarded a crucial second half spot kick when referee Adham Makhadmeh used VAR to rule a handball against James Jeggo.
Replays did show the ball bounce off Jeggo's arm as he went up to head a Chinese set piece clear.
However, the Socceroos midfielder appeared to cop a push in the back that went unnoticed as Wu Lei made no mistake from the spot.
Socceroos captain Mat Ryan shared his frustration about the penalty decision after the match but admitted his side weren't decisive enough across the 90 minutes.
“Disappointing, I don’t think we did enough tonight. Didn’t create enough clear-cut chances. Obviously there is probably a controversial talking point (the penalty) but there are other moments throughout the game where we need to be better... It hurts tonight but it’s all about the response.”
Many other fans, however, were livid with the decision to award China what proved to be a match-defining penalty.
The @Socceroos benefited from similar penalties at the last World Cup but it’s the push on Jeggo in mid-air that provides the added doubt.
A performance lacking the required fluidity though. Up against it now to avoid playoffs. Japan at home in March looms as a seismic affair.
— Daniel Garb (@DanielGarb) November 16, 2021
Should’ve never been a penalty
— sme (@smedaelot) November 16, 2021
Never a penalty
— Engaged 💍 Will VII 🏳️🌈🇦🇺 (@inferno_Will) November 16, 2021
— Rob Smith (@rcssmedasmith) November 16, 2021
OUTRAGEOUS penalty decision against SOCCEROOS
— ɐʞɐs sɐɯ (@haisayasaka) November 16, 2021
The Socceroos' draw, combined with Japan's victory over Oman in Muscat, means the Samurai Blue have leapfrogged the Aussies in Group B and into the second automatic berth for Qatar 2022.
Having lost to Japan in Saitama last month and then drawing 0-0 with group leaders Saudi Arabia in Sydney last week, Australia headed to Sharjah knowing a return to winning ways was vital.
Arnold made two changes to the team that faced the Saudis, picking Milos Degenek to replace the injured Harry Souttar and giving the in-form Duke a start in place of Awer Mabil.
The decision to play Duke paid dividends in a scrappy opening half, when the Japanese-based forward got on the end of a Martin Boyle cross in the 38th minute to nod home from the edge of the six-yard box.
Lack of cutting edge comes back to bite Aussies
While China failed to threaten in the early stages of the second-half, Australia's failure to extend their lead was punished out of the blue with 20 minutes to go.
Called to the sideline monitor by the VAR official, Makhadmeh deemed Jeggo to have handled as he tried to clear a free-kick in the air and awarded a penalty.
Spanish-based star Wu Lei stepped up and made no mistake with the spot kick as he blasted past Mat Ryan to secure the fifth-placed Chinese a share of the spoils.
"We were a bit sloppy at times but you know until the penalty there was pretty much only one team in the game," a frustrated Arnold told Network 10.
"That penalty gave them energy.
"We moved the ball well. We created some decent chances and we've just got to be positive and move forward."
Duke, who has now scored five goals for the Socceroos this year, was in no mood to celebrate as he rued the dropped points.
"Frustrating, always, when you go one-nil up and then you concede and finish with a draw," the striker said.
"It was an important game that we needed three points (from) and very frustrating to go away with just the one."
The Saudis are in the box seat to top the group and claim one of the two automatic qualifying places after they defeated last-placed Vietnam 1-0.
That leaves the Green Falcons four points clear of Japan, who are second with four wins and two losses from their six matches, with Australia a further point back in third.
The Socceroos next qualifiers are a home clash with Vietnam on January 27 before travelling to the Middle East to face Oman on February 1.
Australia's final two World Cup qualifiers are at home to Japan and away to Saudi Arabia.
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