The Socceroos have beaten Saudi Arabia in a must-win FIFA World Cup Qualifying match against Saudi Arabia in Adelaide on Thursday night. But that's about as positive as this story gets.
— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) June 8, 2017
Australia's hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia all came down to this. Blow it against the Saudis and they could pretty much kiss their chances goodbye.
And to their credit they started the match in the best way possible with a quick opening goal. But that all changed very quickly. Some back-and-forth play and Saudi dominance left them struggling with a 2-2 draw at the half-time break.
And then Tomi Juric and Tom Rogic, who are arguably two of the Socceroos' best players right now, stepped up and sealed a 3-2 win to keep Australia's World Cup hopes alive. But only just.
— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) June 8, 2017
While Australia's performance against Saudi Arabia was shaky for most of the match, it's a show of the Socceroos' strength against less-than-impressive Asian opposition.
But take that same performance to the global stage (and the World Cup), and it's a different story.
With Australia set to play a world-class side in Brazil in an international friendly on Tuesday, followed by a Confederations Cup berth featuring the likes of Germany, Portugal, Mexico and Chile, things aren't looking as great as they could be.
Where Australia is able to use enough touches of class to progress in the Asian groups of World Cup qualifying, as we have done so often before with the likes of great players such as Tim Cahill, Thursday's clash with Saudi Arabia just wasn't World Cup quality.
In the meantime, the Socceroos' 2018 World Cup hopes are still alive for now.
And If you're not quite sure why Thursday night's win was so important, read on.
If Australia is to ensure qualification for the 2018 World Cup, it needs to finish in the top two in its group. Here's what has to happen.
How Things Look Now
Australia has three matches left to grab a top spot in its group. Here's how the tables look now.
As you can see, we currently sit third. The Saudis are second. If we beat them Thursday night by three goals or more, we'll leapfrog them. Easier said than done -- The Saudis are pretty good. They've been to the World Cup four times -- which is the same as us.
What Comes Next
After Thursday's match, Australia plays Japan away in August and Thailand at home in September.
This is worrying. The last time Australia beat Japan in any fixture was in a 2009 World Cup qualifier at the MCG. The last time Australia beat Japan in an away fixture was in 1969.
If that doesn't prove that the Blue Samurai are tough opponents, we're not sure what does.
As expected, Saudi Arabia just beat Iraq. Socceroos may need to win both remaining home games & get points in Japan to qualify. Very nervous— Phil (@PhilSpeak) March 28, 2017
Last-place Thailand, on paper, are much easier. But we only drew 2-2 with them in Thailand in November 2016 in a match which followed the death of the Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej. That result pretty much summed up the Socceroos' qualifying struggles.
It's All About The Numbers
To qualify, Australia needs to win its next three games -- that much we've established. Here's where things get mathematical.
These are the other relevant fixtures:
Upcoming matches of Group B teams in contention
- Iraq v Japan -- June 13
- United Arab Emirates (UAE) v Saudi Arabia -- August 29
- Japan v Australia -- August 31
- Saudi Arabia v Japan -- September 5
- Two of Japan's next three matches are top-of-the-table clashes with nine points up-for-grabs (three points each victory). That would put them on 25 group points;
- Including playing Australia, Saudi Arabia also have two top-of-the-table matches and a tough game against the UAE. If they win all three, they'd be in a similar situation as Japan in the hypothetical above;
- Our destiny is in our own hands now, given that we play two teams above us. Lose one match and we may squeeze through -- depending on what happens between Japan and the Saudis;
- But put simply, Australia must win and keep winning. It's up to us. And if we lose tonight, Step Four below almost certainly comes into play.
What Happens If We Finish Third
This isn't good. Nobody wants this.
First, we'd have to play a team like Uzbekistan (see Group A in the table above), both home and away.
If we win, we'd then take on the fourth-placed CONCACAF (North and Central America group) side.
And so the bottom line is -- we REALLY need to beat the Saudis on Thursday.
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