Australia Need To Make Experience Count Against Syria
Australia have put themselves in a perilous position in their bid to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
The Socceroos opted to go through the Asian Conference rather than the Oceanic, which had provided safe passage through the finals for the past three tournaments.
Ange Postecoglou’s men have only lost one of their ten qualifying matches, but their four draws have cost them an automatic place for the competition in Russia.
Australia must now face off against Syria in a playoff clash for the right to compete in the World Cup. The latest betting odds with bet365 back the Socceroos to advance at $1.14, although they cannot afford to take their opponents lightly following their patchy form during qualifying.
Postecoglou’s men had entered qualifying with momentum after winning the Asian Cup in 2015. They did not disappoint on home soil by reaching the final and Massimo Luongo’s goal looked to have secured the crown.
However, Son Heung-min notched a late equaliser to send the contest into extra-time. James Troisi ensured that the Aussies would not be denied, scoring the decisive goal to win the tournament in the 105th minute.
Australia continued their good form at the start of qualifying, but their troubles began when they needed a second-half penalty from skipper Mile Jedinak to salvage a draw themselves against Japan in Melbourne after trailing to a Genki Haraguchi strike.
Postecoglou’s men had a tough trip to Bangkok as Jedinka was needed from the spot once again. He scored to put his side ahead, but a brace from Teerasil Dangda put Thailand in front, only for Jedinak to notch a second penalty to claim a valuable point.
Their struggles continued against Iraq as the Socceroos drew for the fourth game on the spin. However, the salvation came against the UAE on home soil, claiming a 2-0 win to end their troubles through goals from Jackson Irvine and Matthew Leckie.
Australia battled past a tough Saudi Arabia outfit, who came from behind twice to level the score in the first half. Tomas Rogic found the net in the second half to decide the contest, putting his team on course for the finals.
A crucial match against Japan in Saitama decided their fate and it was not positive for the Aussies.
Postecoglou’s men slipped to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Samurai Blue, which not even a victory over Thailand in their last group game could remedy as Saudi Arabia edged them out of the second automatic spot on goal difference.
The Aussies are not the only champions from their regional division facing the prospect of having to through the playoffs.
Portugal were the surprise package of Euro 2016, producing a stunning run to the final to defeat the host nation in France in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo and company would have been hopeful of easing through their qualifying group to secure their place in Russia next year.
However, a defeat to Switzerland in their opener knocked them off course. Despite winning seven matches on the bounce the brilliance of their rivals in Group B may force them through the playoffs. They face Switzerland in their final game, which could be for all the marbles in their bid for an automatic spot.
Unlike Portugal, Australia now must defeat Syria over two legs in a playoff clash in October. Despite the problems their country is going through, the Syrians have been outstanding and were close to qualifying automatically, having led against Iran in their final group game.
A brace from Sadar Azmoun brought Iran back into the lead in Tehran, but a late strike from Al Somah in the third minute of stoppage time secured their place by goal difference.
Syria have nothing to lose and will be going all out to stun the Socceroos. Postecoglou’s men cannot afford anything other than their best efforts otherwise the determination of the Qasioun Eagles could shock them.
The Aussies need to make quality count from the off to put Ayman Hakeem’s side under pressure.
Experience is on their side and it could make all the difference – therefore Tim Cahill, Aaron Mooy, Mathew Ryan and Luongo will have to be at their peak of their powers to secure their place in the World Cup finals.