Behich identifies ‘main goal’ ahead of Bangladesh clash
Veteran full-back Aziz Behich has stressed qualifying outright for the 2026 World Cup is the main goal ahead of the Subway Socceroos’ AFC qualification phase opener on Thursday night.
- READ MORE: Graham Arnold's Subway Socceroos coaching timeline
- READ MORE: Behich identifies ‘main goal’ ahead of Bangladesh clash
Australia endured an arduous qualifying campaign for Qatar World Cup 2022, with key defeats to Japan and Saudi Arabia in March 2022 condemning the side to two do-or-die clashes to make the tournament.
Graham Arnold’s men snuck into the World Cup with a narrow victory against the United Arab Emirates before winning that iconic Peru penalty shootout.
Behich says the team are eager to avoid similar dramatics ahead of the start of their World Cup 2026 AFC qualification phase opener on Thursday night.
Australia played neither of those high-stakes qualifiers at home, so Behich explained that he is looking forward to playing in front of friendly supporters on Thursday.
“It was difficult for us - no home games. So we’re excited that the first game is at home in front of our fans, and we’re all raring to go,” he said.
“We went through the playoff phase last campaign and we don’t want to do that again.
“We did get the job done at the end of the day. Now teams have to come play in Australia, and we’re always confident at home.”
The Socceroos have taken on the world’s best over the past year, including world champions Argentina and the highly-fancied England.
However, this qualification phase offers a different test, with Australia facing lower-ranked opponents in their quest for another shot at a World Cup.
Behich said that will not change their approach as they look to earn their place in the 2026 tournament as quickly as possible.
“We’re expected to qualify - that’s our main goal,” he said.
“We’re not looking at that [facing lower-ranked teams]. We want to top the group throughout the whole process.
“Internally, we know what we can produce on the pitch and what we expect from ourselves, and that’s high standards. It’s going to be no different if we play a lower-ranked nation or a higher one.
“When we go out on that pitch, we’re expected to win; that’s always been our focus - it doesn’t matter who we play against.”
The experienced defender credited coach Arnold for the culture and mentality in the squad, praising his impact on the Socceroos.
“I’ve loved playing under Arnie. He gives me confidence while playing, and you learn from every coach you play under. It’s nice to have an Australian coach coaching our national team. It does make it easier. He knows the culture; he knows the players really well. He’s taken us to a World Cup, we did well in the Asian Cup, and we’ve got another one coming up, so it’s been really good working under him,” Behich said.
“He’s been great since he's come in. The culture he’s put in place from day one has made it easy for payers to slip straight into our environment. It was a difficult one for him with the COVID qualification phase, but it’s different this time around. He’s set the bar high for us, and we do that on the pitch and every day in training as well.
“We’ve built that culture where anyone who’s come in for the first time, second time, we make it comfortable for them. They know what’s expected of them from the first day they’re in camp, so we try to push them and give them all the help they need.”
Australia start their 2026 World Cup qualification campaign against Bangladesh on Thursday night, looking for a positive start to the group.
The side will also battle with Lebanon and Palestine, with the top two advancing to the next qualifying stage.
Behich said the team want to build on the recent success of the Socceroos and the Matildas at the World Cup, which has seen a greater focus on football in Australia.
“You can see it’s growing. The Matildas did so well during the World Cup, and we had a good run during the World Cup. It’s not surprising that football’s slowly going on the up in this country," he said.
"It’s my first year back in Australia after 10 years, so I missed all the hype after the World Cup because I was abroad. Being back now and seeing the crowds for the Matildas games, for the A-Leagues, it’s great to see. What we do on the pitch is going to affect that, starting with this campaign."
FIFA WORLD CUP 2026™ SECOND ROUND ASIAN QUALIFIERS:
Subway Socceroos v Bangladesh
Thursday, 16 November 2023
AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 8.00pm AEDT
Tickets: via Ticketek
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+
Palestine v Subway Socceroos
Tuesday, 21 November 2023 (Local) | Wednesday, 22 November 2023 (AEDT)
Jaber Al-Ahmed International Stadium, Kuwait
Kick-off: 5pm Local, 1am AEDT
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+