FIFA World Cup Qualifying Preview – In Australia’s Defence

Since transferring to the Asian qualifiers in 2006, Australian hopes have risen year on year, and the ‘Socceroos’ have now appeared in three consecutive editions of the FIFA World Cup. Though not mentioned in the short list of potential winners, Australia are now are now perhaps just one match away from making it four. With Australia’s final match being an apparent formality of a home game against bottom-placed Thailand – long since out of the running – it would seem that Australia’s fate will be decided in Japan, when the two sides meet on 31 August.

The long flight and the travel fatigue will make what is already a challenging encounter, with the qualifying table toppers, appear several degrees more difficult. Tokyo is also experiencing something of a heat wave at present, which will prove a stark contrast to the more temperate conditions of early Australian spring. To prepare for this adequately, the Australia squad has been focusing on playing possession football in training sessions, all of which have been conducted in harsh weather to maximise Australia’s chances of securing FIFA World Cup qualification.

There have been reportedly drastic improvements in the team’s cohesion, proving the old adage that sometimes coaches have to be cruel to be kind. The Australian players have been kept guessing as to who exactly will find themselves in the starting XI, but with an all-out attacking game expected from Japan – who held Australia to a 1-1 draw in the reverse match – it is in the selection of his defence that head coach Ange Postecoglou will earn his wages.

At the back, the strongest performance can be expected from Trent Sainsbury, who has documented experience of playing in a similar climate through his endeavours in the Chinese Super League. While ball retention in the centre of the park will be the key to preserving energy and frustrating the Japanese, the selection of wingbacks will be a crucial consideration in case the Socceroos find themselves chasing the game. Brad Smith and Mathew Leckie are the two frontrunners for their respective sides of the field, with the latter also capable of mixing it up front.

Further down the field, VfL Bochum striker Robbie Kruse will likely be the point man, with 37-year old Tim Cahill as an ‘impact sub’ and talisman, should the worst be unfolding in the latter stages. Huddersfield Town’s Aaron Mooy has begun life in the top flight of English football impressively, and his workrate behind the attack will be a great asset, provided that the energy he exerts is used sparingly. Like their visitors, the Japanese are also under considerable pressure to perform, having yet to cement automatic qualification for the FIFA World Cup themselves.

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