Caltex Socceroos star Mark Milligan has been around long enough to know one thing: in World Cup qualifying, there are never any easy games.
Speaking after this week’s ticket on-sale for Australia’s massive group clash with Japan on October 11 at Docklands, the 30-year-old UAE-based midfielder was keen to stress the arduous nature of World Cup qualifying.
And if history is any gauge, he's absolutely spot on.
“Since we’ve been in Asia, I don’t think there’s been one qualification where everything has gone our way,” Milligan, told Matt Windley of the Herald Sun on Thursday.
Australia’s first AFC World Cup qualification campaign for World Cup 2010 in South Africa, was an arduous one helmed by then coach Pim Verbeek.
Trips to varying conditions in Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Qatar, China and Dubai (for Iraq away) were just some of the challenges.
We only just got through after a well-planned campaign.
The Road to Rio 2014 was even tougher, with losses away in West Asia before the Australians came home strongly in the final three group games.
A famous win over Iraq at ANZ courtesy of Josh Kennedy's superb late header propelled the Green and Gold to their third consecutive World Cup - though it was no easy task by any stretch.
In that campaign we faced the likes of Thailand, Japan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as well as Oman and Jordan.
In this campaign, similar opponents with similar challenges for Russia 2018.
It all points to a huge challenge once more and Milligan knows it.
“This is definitely not going to be a walk in the park — we need to be on 100 per cent of the time," said the Baniyas star, who's set to remain at the club for the coming season.
Australia open their final phase of qualifiers with a September 1 clash against the always difficult Iraq in Perth.
A few days later on September 6 they’ll be in the UAE to meet Omar Abdulrahman's Asian Cup semi finalists before an away October 6 date with Saudi Arabia.
Then it's a flight back home for the October 11 blockbuster with Japan at Docklands.
An away clash in mid November will round out this year’s qualifiers when Australia heads to Bangkok to face the rapidly improving Thais.
Milligan added: “There’s no weak side in this group.”
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