Qantas Socceroos face tough task
Australia suffered a setback in their bid to reach the East Asian Cup after being held to a 1-1 draw by North Korea in qualifying on Wednesday.
Archie Thompson joined John Kosmina and Attila Abonyi in equal third on the all-time Qantas Socceroos scorers' list with his 25th international goal against the group leaders in a largely unconvincing performance in Hong Kong from Holger Osieck's side.
Yong-Hak An found a deserved equalised on 64 minutes when he hooked home a crisp volley after Australia failed to deal with a set piece.
Tom Rogic was introduced in the second half to spark an ailing midfield as Australia pushed for a winner, but they lacked impetus for too much of the encounter.
A late penalty appeal for a foul on substitute Adam Taggart following some delightful play down the left from Rogic and a Matt McKay header was as close as Australia came to a second goal.
Just two days after seeing off the tournament hosts 1-0 on a woeful Mong Kok Stadium pitch, the Socceroos lacked sharpness but went ahead after just four minutes through Melbourne Victory front man Thompson.
Thompson had earned a corner when his header was parried behind and reacted quickest to prod home the rebound from close range after team-mate Mark Milligan clattered his header from the resulting corner against the post.
Aside from the inclusion of goalkeeper Mat Ryan for Eugene Galekovic, Osieck stuck with an unchanged team for the clash knowing his side needed the win over their main rivals to avoid a goal-difference showdown.
North Korea remain top of the table with seven points from three games but have a far better goal difference than Australia, who have four points from two matches.
A slick tempo saw both sides stroke the ball around confidently in the early stages of the match.
After Thompson stunned Yun Jong-Su's side it was all North Korea for the better part of half an hour, with Park Nam-Chol finding the grateful arms of Ryan from a header at the back post.
The Socceroos shot-stopper was again well positioned to deal with Jong Il-Gwan's strike after another teasing cross, while at the other end Osieck's side were reduced to hopeful long balls and little fluid possession in the final third.
North Korea continued to probe but wasted a free kick in a dangerous position and were nearly caught in possession on the halfway line after being forced back.
Brett Emerton, Australia's goal-scorer against Hong Kong, picked out Thompson, whose acrobatic header could only find the side netting on 30 minutes.
Ryan was almost left red faced moments later as he finger-tipped a cross-cum-shot just over the bar.
Australia emerged with renewed vigour after the break but it was Nam-Chol who went closest to scoring for North Korea, with Ryan getting down smartly to deny him in the 53rd minute.
Wearing protective head gear due to a fractured jaw, McKay went through on goal moments later but the angle was too acute to force his shot on target.
North Korea finally broke through from a set piece on 64 minutes and it was no less than they deserved after some enterprising play.
Captain Ri Kwang-Chon first saw his shot deflected but Yong-Hak was on hand in a crowded box to turn his volley into the net from close range.
Australia really only looked to take the game to North Korea once parity was restored, and it proved too late to force a winner.
Rogic offered plenty of drive and turned in a beautiful cross for fellow substitute Taggart, who stood paralysed in the box with an open net gaping.
A defender lashed the ball clear and despite sweeping Taggart's legs from underneath him, the referee was having none of the penalty appeals.
The winner of the qualifying round advances to the final tournament to face China, South Korea and Japan.
Also on Wednesday, Lo Chih An's 90th-minute equaliser earned Chinese Taipei a 1-1 draw against Guam in a match between the bottom two teams in the preliminaries.