Australia’s very nervy, but expected, 2-1 victory over Thailand in Melbourne now means Saudi Arabia know what they have to do when they face Japan to ensure qualification to next year’s World Cup in Russia.
The Socceroos bombarded Thailand’s goal, but it took a Mathew Leckie’s strike in the 86th minute to guarantee the Aussies all three points. Tomi Jurinc opened the scoring in the 69th minute before Pokklaw A-Nan shocked the hosts with 18 minutes left.
That has lifted Australia into second place in Group B, behind the already-qualified Japan, and has set the scene for the Green Falcons’ biggest match in over a decade.
Here’s Arab News’ lowdown on tonight’s crunch clash in Jeddah.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN FOR THE GREEN FALCONS TO FLY INTO THE WORLD CUP?
IF Saudi Arabia beat Japan, thanks to their superior goal difference, they are definitely through
IF Saudi Arabia draw Australia qualify automatically and the Green Falcons go into the fourth round where they’ll face the third-placed team — one of South Korea, Syria and Uzbekistan — from Group A.
IF Saudi Arabia lose then they could miss out altogether if they lose by five or more goals and the United Arab Emirates beat Iraq by four or more goals.
REASONS TO BE POSITIVE
1. Japan, although clearly by some distance the best team in Asia, are already through, and while there will be talk about putting in a good performance and ending qualification on a high, they’re only human and it will be only natural for them to take their foot off the gas.
2. The Samurai Blue only played five days ago, have had an 18-hour journey to Jeddah, will be jet lagged and not used to the noticeably hotter climate of the Kingdom at the moment. The hosts have had longer to prepare and will be used to the conditions.
3. Thanks to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, fans have free entry to the match. In these sort of clashes never underestimate how vital 60,000 passionate supporters could be if the match was still on a knife-edge with 15 minutes to go.
REASONS TO BE PESSIMISTIC
1. While Japan are already through and the coach, Vahid Halilhodzic, could rest some key players (Makoto Hasebe, the captain, will be missing, as will Shinji Kagawa) the fringe players will be desperate to impress the boss knowing that places to Russia are up for grabs.
2. A 2-1 defeat by the UAE last time out hinted at nerves with the finish line in sight. For a lot of these players, this is as good a chance of getting to a World Cup as they will get. Can they handle the pressure? The 60,000 fans will be desperate to see their country qualify for the first time since 2006 and can act as a 12th man. But if things don’t go the hosts’ way then nerves are all too easily transmitted from the stands to the pitch.
3. Japan have topped the group for a reason, they are far and away the best side in Asia and haven’t been beaten in qualification for over a year, a shock 2-1 home defeat by the UAE last September being the last time they tasted defeat. Whatever side they play, beating it will be no mean feat for the Green Falcons.