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Aussies beat Uruguay 1 - 0

Kevin Muscat and Shaun Murphy celebrate Australia's goal
Kevin Muscat and Shaun Murphy celebrate Australia's goal

MELBOURNE, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Kevin Muscat converted a late penalty on Tuesday to give Australia a 1-0 win over Uruguay in the first leg of their playoff for the 32nd and final place in next year's World Cup.

Kevin Muscat and Shaun Murphy in excelsis
The Wolverhampton Wolves defender lifted Australian hopes of qualifying for their first World Cup in 28 years when he scored in the 79th minute to break the deadlock.

Italian referee Graziano Cesari awarded the penalty after Uruguay defender Paolo Montero pulled down Australian substitute Paul Agostino near the six-yard line as he raced in to connect with a perfectly-timed cross from Leeds United striker Harry Kewell.

Muscat, who was villified for a bad foul on France striker Christophe Dugarry in their friendly earlier this month in Melbourne, stepped forward and made no mistake with the kick, drilling the ball past Juventus goalkeeper Fabian Carini to become an instant national hero.

Muscat's goal gave the Oceania champions a deserved win before 84,000 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground after failing to make the most of their greater possession.

It also put them in the driving seat before Sunday's second leg in Montevideo.

Australia had missed out on the last World Cup when they blew a 2-0 lead against Iran at the MCG to draw 2-2 and bow out on the away goals rule.

Frank Farina's team were desperate to erase that disappointment by beating Uruguay, who finished fifth in the South American qualifiers.

They controlled the match from the outset but created few real goalscoring chances -- their best coming midway through the second half when an Agostini header hit the post.

Their only real chance in the first half came in the fifth minute when Glasgow Rangers defender Craig Moore's header was fingertipped over the cross-bar by Carini.

Kewell also briefly threatened to test Carini when he broke free on the right side only to be brought down by Dario Rodriguez outside the box, earning the tough defender a yellow card for his indiscretion.

Uruguay's opportunities were limited by their decision to play just one man up front but they almost grabbed an early goal when they caught the Australians napping.

Inter Milan's Alvaro Recoba unleashed a powerful shot from near the halfway line which forced Australia's Middlesbrough's goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, back-pedalling to his line, to catch the ball just under the bar.

Recoba created another chance out of nothing at the start of the second half when he broke into the Australian box and drove the ball from an acute angle towards goal, forcing Schwarzer to make a quick save.

Uruguay, World Cup winners in 1930 and 1950, failed to make any real inroads in the final quarter of an hour as Australia pressed forward before the pressure told and the penalty was awarded.

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