Australia step closer to 2026 World Cup with Lebanon win

Sydney: Australia's Scottish connection helped them to a 2-0 victory over a determined Lebanon on Thursday to take a step closer to the 2026 World Cup.

St Mirren midfielder Keanu Baccus struck early in the first half before Hearts defender Kye Rowles added a second on 54 minutes in front of a near-full house of 27,000 at Sydney's Parramatta Stadium.

It was their first international goals and kept Australia unbeaten on the road to the 48-team World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

With three wins from three, they top Asian Group I after previously putting seven unanswered goals past Bangladesh before a 1-0 away win against Palestine.

They face Lebanon – who drew 0-0 against both Palestine and Bangladesh – again in Canberra next week with victory ensuring they progress to the next stage of qualifying.

"It's very satisfying. Obviously the most important thing is a win and the clean sheet," said Australian midfielder Connor Metcalfe.

"But we can do a lot better. We were too sloppy and too many easy mistakes, but happy with the win."

A record eight direct spots and one intercontinental playoff berth are at stake for Asian Football Confederation sides, from nine groups of four.

The top two from each group go through to the final qualifying round for 2026.

Fellow Asian heavyweights Japan and South Korea play later Thursday, against North Korea and Thailand respectively.

Japan are targeting an eighth straight World Cup and the Koreans an 11th.

Asian champions Qatar, the 2022 World Cup hosts, meet Kuwait in Doha.

Back in action for the first time since their disappointing quarter-final exit at the Asian Cup in Qatar, Baccus opened the scoring for Australia with a stroke of luck.

After intercepting a pass, he ran down the right and whipped in a looping cross that curled past flummoxed Lebanon goalkeeper Mostafa Matar, who seemed to think it was going wide.

Both sides created half-chances as the match opened up, but they struggled to capitalise, with Australia taking a 1-0 lead into the break.

But Rowles made no mistake nine minutes into the second half, blasting home a half-volley when the ball fell to him after bouncing around in the box following a corner.

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