Cahill strikes again to put Australia in driving seat for Russia
ABU DHABI: Cometh the hour, cometh the man. With 15 minutes left on the clock in the stifling Abu Dhabi heat, Tim Cahill shoved his marker aside, got himself on the end of a sublime Brad Smith cross and scored Australia's winner with his first touch.
The only surprise, perhaps, was that the substitute striker did not find the back of the net with a trademark header, choosing instead to guide the ball across the line with his right foot for his 48th goal in his 92nd international.
Cahill has scored more spectacular goals for Australia - his stunning volley against the Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup comes to mind - but few have been more important.
The United Arab Emirates were riding high after beating Japan in their opening match of the decisive third stage of Asian qualifying and would have fancied their chances of a second win in the 30 degrees Celsius temperatures on Tuesday.
Instead, it is Australia who return atop Group B with Saudi Arabia after two rounds as they chase one of the two tickets to Russia in 2018.
"It was an important goal, the UAE played really well, we have a lot of respect for this team," Cahill said in a sideline interview, his shirt drenched with sweat.
"But our team tired them out, we kept pressing, we kept pushing, we were patient and (it was a) disciplined performance.
"In the end, I got the reward but it's about the team. I'm so glad happy we got the points, it means so much to our country."
The 1-0 victory, which came on the back of a 2-0 win over Iraq in Perth last week, was all the more impressive for the way the Asian champions kept up the pace of the game despite the conditions.
"We said were going to play our way and we did," coach Ange Postecoglou told Fox Sports.
"They just couldn't keep up and we got the goal we deserved and probably could have got a couple more. The boys were fantastic.
"I said before the game they'll sit back and that's what they did. And if they want to come at us, good luck to them but not many teams have. And there's more growth in this team to come."
The Socceroos next travel to Saudi Arabia on October 6 before returning to Melbourne to take on Japan five days later in a match that could go a long way to deciding whether Australia reach a fourth straight World Cup.
With Cahill having scored five of Australia's 11 goals at World Cup finals, Postecoglou will not be alone in hoping the 36-year-old's legs hold out for another couple of years.