Australia v Oman - An unlikely rivalry

When Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, it spawned a whole new series of unlikely rivals for the Qantas Socceroos, most of them with nations we'd never been sporting rivals with before.

When Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, it spawned a whole new series of unlikely rivals for the Qantas Socceroos, most of them with nations we'd never been sporting rivals with before.

Oman certainly fits that category, with plenty of Australians no doubt unable to locate the Middle Eastern sultanate on a map. Let alone named more than one of their players in the lead-up to the first ever clash between the two teams in the 2007 Asian Cup.

The match was the Qantas Socceroos' first in the continental championship and was played in the stifling heat of Bangkok at the cavernous Rajamangala National Stadium.

The atmosphere compared poorly to Australia's last turnout in a major tournament, where the Socceroos threatened to steal the hearts of a nation at the 2006 World Cup.

Instead of a pulsating crowd of green and gold, there were two pockets of fans consisting of what was optimistically calculated to be 5000 people.

It was in that match that Australia got a firm lesson in the importance of both the adaptability to the conditions in which Asian football is played and adaptability to the style of play.

Ten of the starting XI for Australia in that match had played major roles at the World Cup 12 months before, but they looked nothing like the side that was unlucky not to beat Italy in the second round in Germany.

Bader Al Maimani put the then world No.74 ahead 32 minutes in thanks to some lacklustre defending and from that point Oman put up the shutters.

Their time-wasting tactics irked both the smattering of Australian fans and the Australia team and in the end, it took a bit a Tim Cahill opportunism to spare Australian blushes as he seized on Mark Bresciano's deflected shot and scored an equaliser in stoppage time.

Then-coach Graham Arnold admitted Australia "got out of a jail" and that his players has simply failed to adapt to the conditions, with some of them losing 5kgs in the South East Asian heat.

It was the start of a brutal couple of weeks for the Qantas Socceroos, who found themselves out in the quarter final stage on penalties against Japan.

If that Oman result didn't spark a rivalry, their next encounter in 2009, certainly set things alight.

Despite the game being played in the home comforts of Melbourne, Australia again struggled in what was a 2011 Asian Cup qualifier.

Again, it was Cahill who got the job done, scoring in the 74th minute with a sliding boot which put Australia back on track to Qatar 2011 having picked up just one point from their first two matches.

Post-match, things got even more heated between the two teams with outspoken Oman coach Claude Le Roy claiming he had been insulted by an Australian team official.

"They (Australia) seemed to think that from the beginning we were going to cheat, to waste time, but I never ask that of my players, I say to them, play, play," he said post-match.

"Australia is a very good team, with a lot of skilful players and we will be behind them as part of Asia at the (2010) World Cup, but before that they will come to Muscat, and you can be sure that we will be ready."

The journeyman French manager's warning that Oman would "be ready" for Australia in the return leg in Muscat a month later intensified the rivalry between the two teams.

When Oman won a penalty after 15 minutes of the return and defender Rhys Williams was sent off, it looked liek Le Roy and his men would make good on their promise.

The tension between the teams was evident, while the local crowd got involved with a firework thrown onto the pitch near David Carney.

The Qantas Socceroos relished the hostility and after Luke Wilkshire equalised in the first half, Brett Emerton slotted the winner late in the game.

From there Oman's challenge fell away significantly and they missed qualification after managing just a draw against Kuwait in the final qualifier, prompting Le Roy's departure.

Australia went on to finish runners-up to Japan in the 2011 Asian Cup and help expunge some of the demons which had gathered after the 2007 Asian Cup failure.

When the draw for the first group stage of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup came out with Australia matched with Oman, Thailand and Saudi Arabia, it was clear the Oman rivalry would be resumed.

As it turned out, the dates were strikingly similar to those of two years' prior, with Australia to host Oman, this time in Sydney, with a return leg in Muscat a month later.

But instead of the combative style of the previous encounters, under coach Paul Le Guen, Oman sat back and tried to defend.

As early as the eighth minute it was clear that approach wouldn't work. Brett Holman slotted the opener and the Qantas Socceroos dominated much of the first half. It took until 65 minutes for the second goal, this teem through prolific striker Josh Kennedy and Mile Jedinak rounded a 3-0 victory off, which put Australia on the precipice of qualifying for the next round, while Oman's hopes hang by a thread.