Socceroos on brink of World Cup berth

Socceroos succeed. Tim Cahill (Aus) celebrates Lucas Neill’s goal with teamates. Photo: Justin McManus

Australia is so close to a third consecutive World Cup appearance that it can almost taste it. But Holger Osieck, its phlegmatic German coach, is right to remember the old adage that there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.

After Iraq’s last gasp defeat at home to Japan – Shinki Okazaki’s 89th minute goal giving the Blue Samurai a 1-0 win in Doha in the early hours of Wednesday – the 2007 Asian champions cannot now qualify directly, nor make third place, which would give them a shot at a play-off position.

In theory that should make Australia’s task on Tuesday, when it takes on the Iraqis in Sydney, easier.

But it doesn’t always work out that way. With nothing left to play for, the men from the Middle East may take two approaches to this match. They could treat it as an academic exercise and use it as the first phase of a rebuild towards the 2015 Asian Cup, playing fringe players or youngsters, or they might throw caution to the wind and play with freedom and abandon now that the pressure is off, a tactic that could make them a more difficult opponent.

For Australia the equation hasn’t actually changed all that much. It knew it had to beat Jordan and Iraq after returning from that battling draw in Japan, and it still does.

A win takes the Socceroos to Brazil.

A draw would leave them sweating on the result of the Jordan v Oman match, being played in the early hours of next Wednesday morning. If Australia and Iraq were to finish level the Socceroos would have 11 points from their eight games. Should Oman win in Amman they would move to 12, and take the automatic second position. A draw would leave them on 10 points, and in third spot.

If the Jordanians bounce back and beat Oman the best they can hope for is third place. They would have 10 points (Oman would stay on nine) and even if the Socceroos were to lose narrowly to Iraq, allowing Jordan to go level with them on points, the Jordanians goal difference is so dreadful that Australia would finish ahead anyway.

For Australia fans then, the perfect outcome would be a win in Sydney and a draw or Jordan success in the other fixture.

Bookmakers have the Socceoros as short price favourites to get the job done and, as Osieck and a number of players said after Tuesday night’s demolition of the Jordanians, the team’s confidence has been given a massive boost by the past two performances.

“It was a great team effort. I think our team showed great unity and the score was definitely what we needed in that form. A good margin, a good clean sheet compared to some of the other results. It will definitely give a lot of confidence for the last game against Iraq. We made a big step forward, but we haven’t crossed the finish line.”

Osieck tried to downplay the coming of age performance of Robbie Kruse, the young former Melbourne Victory winger now carving out a career for himself in the German Bundesliga, but the superlatives have rightly been delivered following his tremendous effort against the Jordanians.

Kruse knows the Etihad arena better than most in the Socceroos squad, and he showed himself right at home once more with his best ever performance in a Socceroo shirt, creating two goals and scoring a third. He looks to be one of the keys to future success and has timed his run perfectly.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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