Australia 2 (3) - (2) 1 Syria
Australia vs Syria: match report, result, how it happened
A tense encounter at the Stadium Australia in Sydney was decided by Tim Cahill's 49th and 50th international goals to take the Socceroos past Syria to the final play-off game for World Cup 2018Brazil - Belgium live online: World Cup 2018 quarter-final
Cahill, 37, cancelled out Omar al-Soma's opener in the first half before he leapt to head Australia's precious second goal in the 109th minute for a 2-1 win in the second leg.
After last week's 1-1 draw in Malaysia, Australia won 3-2 on aggregate to reach a final play-off against the fourth-placed team from the CONCACAF federation, currently Panama.
Syria went close to causing upset
Syria have never reached the World Cup and their hopes suffered a massive blow when Mahmoud al-Mawas was sent off for a second bookable offence in the fourth minute of extra time.
As penalties beckoned, Robbie Kruse sent over a cross from the byline and Cahill out-jumped his marker to power a header past the diving Ibrahim Alma.
There was huge drama in the dying seconds, when Soma juddered the right post with a vicious free kick. But Australia survived to stay on track for their fourth straight World Cup.
Australia vs Syria: how it happened
Australia vs Syria: preview
Australia host Syria in the return leg of the teams' continental play-off after a 1-1 draw in Thursday's opener, in which Omar Al Somah levelled with a late penalty after Robbie Kruse had given the Socceroos a first-half lead.
The winners of this tie advance to November's two-legged inter-confederation play-offs, where they will face off with the fourth-placed team from CONCACAF for a ticket to Russia.
Australia are bidding for a place at their fourth straight World Cup, but have been forced to take the long way round after finishing third in their AFC third-round qualifying group
It is the first time that the Aussies have missed out on an automatic berth at the finals since switching from Oceania to the AFC in 2006.
But with an away goal in the bag and a fine home record so far in 2018 World Cup qualifying - nine wins and one draw - they are the clear favourites to progress after last week's first-leg stalemate.
Stadium Australia was the venue for the Aussies' AFC Asian Cup triumph in 2015, and coach Ange Postecoglou said pre-match that his charges are out to add to their happy memories at the ground.
"We want to create another great moment at a great stadium, where we have a great history," he declared.
Syria are seeking a first ever World Cup finals spot after claiming third place in their AFC qualifying group courtesy of Al Somah's dramatic last-gasp equaliser in Iran in early September.
What's more, Al Somah's equaliser on Thursday maintained his side's unbeaten 'home' record in 2018 World Cup qualifying since having to decamp to South East Asia.
However, their away form has been less impressive, with four defeats and only three goals scored in their past six qualifiers. That bodes ill for a side who require a high-scoring draw or better to go through without needing penalties.
But although they travel to Sydney as underdogs, left-back Mouaiad Al Ajjan says Syria are eyeing the chance to give the supporters back in their war-torn country something to cheer about.
"We are content with the [first-leg] result," he explained, "but we promise the fans we will up our game in the second leg to bring them joy and qualify for the inter-confederation play-off."
Australia vs Syria live stream online: possible line-ups
Australia XI: Ryan, Degenek, Sainsbury, Jurman, Risdon, Milligan, Mooy, Behich, Leckie, Cahill, Rogic
Head coach: Ange Postecoglou
Syria XI: Alma, Youssef, Al Masri, Al Medani, Al Ajan, Al Mawas, Al Mbayed, Haj Mohamad, Kalfa, Al Somah, Al Khatib
Head coach: Ayman Hakeem
Australia vs Syria live online: betting odds
The bookies are firmly backing Australia to progress to the inter-continental play-offs, with the Socceroos priced at 1.10 to see off the challenge of the Syrians, who are valued back at 6.00.
See all the odds on Australia vs Syria here.