By Gideon Long
NELSPRUIT (Reuters) - Goals from Tim Cahill and Brett Holman gave Australia a 2-1 victory over Serbia as both teams bowed out of the World Cup but the Serbians were left claiming they had been robbed of a last 16 berth by the referee.
Serbia would have gone through to the knock-out stages of the tournament if they had grabbed a late equalizer. In the dying minutes of the game, Cahill appeared to handle the ball in the box, and the Serbians screamed for a penalty.
But Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda waved them away, and was surrounded by angry Serbian players after he blew the final whistle.
Serbian coach Radomir Antic was also upset his team had two goals disallowed, one of which he claimed was "definitely not offside."
"We did not get fair treatment, we deserved more than we got and we have to go home now," Antic said. "The ref had a black day when it came to Serbia. The referee and the fourth official did not want to see a foul that was quite obvious. We are angry when it came to this decision."
With Germany beating Ghana 1-0 in the evening's other match, Australia finished level on four points with the Africans. But their goal difference was worse than Ghana's and that condemned them to a third place finish.
Serbia finished bottom of the group with three points.
Despite needing to score goals, the Socceroos were strangely subdued in the first half and the Serbians were totally in control.
The pacy Krasic, who was a menace on the Serbian right flank all evening, slipped though the Aussie defense after 38 minutes and squeezed the ball under Schwarzer into the net, but his effort was correctly ruled out for offside.
Four minutes later the Australians doubled their lead - second half substitute Holman blasting home a shot from outside the box - and for a moment it seemed like Pim Verbeek's side might pull off one of the great escape acts of the World Cup.
With thousands of yellow-shirted fans roaring them on from the stands, the Australians poured forward in search of more goals.
But inevitably they left themselves exposed and in the 84th minute Serbia pulled one back, Marko Pantelic taking advantage of a rare Schwarzer fumble to stab the ball home from close range.
That changed the emphasis of the tie and suddenly it was the Serbs who had a chance of qualifying.
But when the referee turned down their penalty appeal, their final chance of a place in the last 16 disappeared from the grasp.
Australia's victory will have gone some way to restoring their battered pride after a difficult World Cup campaign marred by two red cards.
The Serbians will leave South Africa with a momentous win over Germany to show for their efforts, but very little else.
(Writing by Gideon Long; Additional reporting by Zoran Mirosavljavic and Gordon Bell; Editing by Nigel Hunt)