AFC ASIAN QUALIFIERS ROAD TO QATAR: GROUP B
Doha, Qatar – Oman will hope to halt Australia’s record winning streak when they meet in a crucial AFC Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar Group B clash in Doha, Qatar, on Thursday. The match kicks off at 10.30pm, Oman time.
Coached by Croatian Branko Ivankovic, Oman will be looking for their second big win in the Asian Qualifiers after launching this final round with a stunning 1-0 win over hosts Japan in September. Australia, on the other hand, are coming into the match with an unblemished record of ten wins from as many matches since their Asian Qualifiers campaign began in September 2019.
Another three points at Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium will take the Socceroos a step closer to an unprecedented fifth successive FIFA World Cup appearance. They currently lead the table with six points from two wins and share same number of points with Saudi Arabia.
Forced to play a home qualifier on neutral soil for the second successive month due to COVID-19 restrictions, world No 32 Australia will return to the Qatari capital confident of success against an Oman side ranked 46 places below them in the FIFA Rankings.
Regular foes since Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, Oman have managed just one win in nine previous meetings with the Socceroos, who cruised to a 5-0 win when the two sides last met in Dubai in late 2018. The current Australian squad has produced similarly impressive form.
However, Oman under Ivankovic, have displayed brilliance, though, in spurts. Ivankovic’s Red Warriors have been in Doha for the past two weeks and will be looking for their second big win in the campaign. While Australia have historically been able to get the better of Oman, there is a growing confidence among the West Asian side.
A superb win away to Japan sent shockwaves around the continent, and Ivankovic’s side were unlucky not to come away from their subsequent home match against Saudi Arabia without at least a point.
They were guilty of wastefulness in the final third in the latter of those matches, but there were no such worries in a 7-2 friendly win over Nepal last week, with Abdulaziz al Miqbali, who scored twice, one of six Omani players to get their names of the scoresheet.
Including unofficial friendlies against club sides, the match against Nepal was Oman’s 15th game in 2021, making them one of the busiest anywhere in Asia this year, creating a sense of cohesion which former Persepolis boss Ivanković hopes will pay dividends against one of the continent’s heavyweights.
In his pre-match comments on Wednesday, Ivankovic said that ‘he is happy with his boys’ display so far’. “Australia is a tough team with lot of experience. My players are ready for the game and have prepared well.” he said.
Striker Mohsin al Ghassani, defender Amjad al Harthi have had injury concerns while in all likelihood experienced defender Mohammed al Musalami will make a return.
Musalami said, “It is crucial to play for three points and we will go all out. Australia are a strong team but we are going to give our best. Hopefully, we will be
Graham Arnold’s Australia have won every one of their matches on the Road to Qatar, just one of which was played in Australia, and have the maximum six points from two matches in the final group stage having defeated China (3-0) and Vietnam (1-0) in September.
They can also boast a largely settled side, with Brad Smith and Milos Degenek – who returned positive COVID-19 tests – the only forced changes from last month’s squad.
Arnold arguably has an equally strong cohort of players to choose from, with Brescia fullback Fran Karacic and Melbourne Victory forward Chris Ikonomidis both available for selection after missing the last window, while experienced Sunderland defender Bailey Wright looms as a ready-made replacement for the absent Degenek. “We don’t look too far ahead,” said Australia coach Arnold. “Yes it’s been a great start, but I expect that to continue.”
China suffer familiar sinking feeling
A familiar sense of crisis threatens to envelop Chinese football with the men’s national team heading into crunch 2022 World Cup qualifiers still looking for their first point and first goal.
Li Tie’s side were soundly beaten by Australia in their opening match of this final round of Asian qualifying for Qatar, then lost 0-1 to old rivals Japan.
The pressure will ratchet up significantly if they do not beat Vietnam on Thursday in the UAE, where the match is taking place because of the coronavirus.
China and Vietnam occupy the bottom two places of the six-nation Group B table – Vietnam have at least scored one goal.
Only the teams that finish in the top-two in Group A and Group B are guaranteed to reach Qatar. Two rounds of matches over the next two weeks will go a long way to deciding who books their tickets for 2022.