Football

No margin for error for Socceroos

Socceroos need win to keep alive hopes of direct qualification for 2018 World Cup

GROUP B
AUSTRALIA SAUDI ARABIA

Australia face a must-win qualifier against Saudi Arabia in Adelaide today if they are to keep alive their direct qualification hopes for next year's World Cup Finals.

The Socceroos, who have qualified for the last three editions, trail the Saudis and group leaders Japan by three points with three games left in Asia's Group B.

The top-two teams will progress to Russia 2018, with the third-placed nation forced into a play-offs.

Both Australia and Saudi Arabia also have to play Japan in the remaining matches, adding a further edge.

It has been a muddling campaign for Ange Postecoglou's Australians, who are the only unbeaten team in the group but have had four draws among their seven games.

Postecoglou's reliance on captain Mile Jedinak's accuracy from the penalty spot and the continued presence in the squad of 37-year-old Tim Cahill, though, are indicative of the struggles of his side to score goals.

German-based attacker Mathew Leckie said: "Saudi Arabia are in a good position on the table and we need to not just draw but win - it's a must-win."

He added that his team were "very confident" and "very strong at home".

"We will definitely cause a lot of problems for them and, if we play at our best, it will be tough to stop us."

The Australians were on track for all three points in their away match in Jeddah last October before a 79th-minute equaliser from Nasser Al Shamrani earned the Saudis a 2-2 draw.

Queens Park Rangers midfielder Massimo Luongo believes an early goal would be vital to unlock the Saudi game plan of containment in Australia.

"A goal early would ruin their game plan and they'll be forced to come out and try to score, and that will help us," Luongo said.

"A draw might be good enough (for the Saudis) but, if we get a goal, it's just going to unlock them. Then they'll need to come out and play."

But, Saudi winger Yahya Al Shehri insists that they will not be looking to grind out a draw on enemy territory.

CONFIDENT GREEN FALCONS

"We're ahead of them on the table," the winger told fifa.com.

"We have to play them on their home turf, but we'll go there to win and to hold on to top spot. We want to keep winning and qualify for the World Cup."

Saudi Arabia coach Bert van Marwijk, who led his native Holland to the 2010 World Cup final, has built an impressively solid team that always seem capable of creating chances, although they be without suspended playmaker Nawaf Al Abed in Adelaide.

The squad have been together for most of the last month. They were in Frankfurt for two weeks, followed by a week in Saudi Arabia before their early arrival into Adelaide to prepare for the qualifier.

The Green Falcons played at four successive World Cups from 1994 to 2006, a run that ended when Australia switched to the Asian confederation and grabbed one of the continent's precious berths for the 2010 and 2014 tournaments. - WIRE SERVICES

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