Australia's hopes hanging by a thin thread

The Socceroos Asian Cup hopes are hanging by a thin thread, after falling to Iraq 3-1 at the Rajamangala National Stadium in Bangkok tonight. Despite the loss, Australia can still qualify for the next round with a win over Thailand on Monday.

The Socceroos Asian Cup hopes are hanging by a thin thread, after falling to Iraq 3-1 at the Rajamangala National Stadium in Bangkok tonight.

Despite equalising early in the second half through captain Mark Viduka, two turnovers around the Australian penalty area proved costly, with Iraq making the most of the chances - the result leaving the pre-tournament favourites on the verge of elimination from the tournament.

To make matters worse, Australia will be without key central defender Lucas Neill, who was needlessly sent off in the dying minutes of the match, for dissent against the referee.

Despite the disappointing result, Australia still has a chance of making the quarter-finals, if they can beat Thailand in its final group game on Monday night. A win will draw them level on points with the hosts and based on head to head results, would go through in second spot on the group table, albeit dependant on the other group game result between Iraq and Oman.

Australia started the match in a more confident mood than in its opening match against Oman, with Harry Kewell presenting Marco Bresciano with a half chance, which went wide of the near post.

Both sides traded free kicks that went straight to the keepers, but the deflating blow came in the 21st minute, when Iraq scored what can only be described as a soft goal. Iraq-s midfield maestro Nashat Akram, played a free kick from wide on the left and 35 metres out into the penalty box; the ball sailing over the defence, where Salih Sadir did enough to distract Mark Schwarzer, who stayed on his line, and the ball bounced into the goal.

Australia, try as they might, struggled to create many decent chances, with a Viduka free kick going wide of the near post, plus a shot on the turn from the edge of the area the closest he and his team came.

A strong second half was needed in the hot and humid conditions and it couldn-t have gotten off to a better start, when a good interchange of passes saw Bresciano release Emerton on the right. The Blackburn Rovers defender's first time cross was beautifully weighted to the back post, where Viduka headed back across goal inside the far post.

Buoyed by the goal, Australia continued to press, with Viduka inches away from a second goal in the 53rd minute, his header from another Emerton cross skimming the crossbar.

But from then on, it was all downhill for Australia, with the conditions stopping the Australian-s running strength, while the Iraq players led by Nashat seemed to lift.

A poor pass from Cahill back into the Australian half, saw Iraq gain possession and in an instant the ball was with Nashat, who superbly picked out Hawar at the top of the penalty area and he neatly placed his shot past the advancing Schwarzer.

Hawar almost added a second to his goal tally with a deft chip, but Schwarzer managed to get a fingertip to it and push it against the crossbar.

However, in what was a bad night for Neill, his clearing ball from his own area was intercepted and deflected out to Karim. His shot, ironically hit Neill and found Karrar Jasim all by himself in the six-yard box and he had the simple task of tapping home.

The match ended disastrously when Neill, already on a yellow card, blew up at the time wasting tactics of Iraq during a substitution and was subsequently issued with another yellow card by the Bahraini referee. He will now miss the crucial match against Thailand, leaving an already stretched defence without its most important leader.

Match Details

Australia 1 (Mark Viduka 47-) Iraq 3 (Salih 21-, Hawar 60-, Jasim 86-)

Australian line-up: Mark Schwarzer (gk); Lucas Neill, Patrick Kisnorbo (John Aloisi 70-), Jason Culina (Archie Thompson 64-), Brett Emerton, Luke Wilkshire, Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell, Vince Grella, Brett Holman (Tim Cahill 46-), Mark Bresciano

Cautions: Culina (12-), Grella (35-), Neill (43- & 92-), Wilkshire (87-) Expulsions: Neill (92-)