Caltex Socceroos group opponents guide

"Thai tiki-taka", "Jay Messi", "Asia's Gareth Bale", UAE's star on the EPL radar, Japan's Leicester City connection and so much more.

With the Caltex Socceroos kicking off in the final round of qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup against Iraq in Perth tonight, here’s your guide to Australia's group opponents by Asian football expert @JohnnyDuerden.


The Samurai Blue need no introduction to Australian fans.

Looking for a sixth successive appearance on the world stage, Japan not only expect to qualify, they expect to do well once there.

Their two clashes with the Green and Gold – the first being on October 11 at Etihad in Melbourne – should be absolute crackers.

Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic

The Bosnian took Algeria to the knockout stage at World Cup 2014 with aggressive and attacking football and took the job in the Land of the Rising Sun in March 2015.

Japan's Shinji Okazaki unleashes a shot on goal during a friendly against the Socceroos in 2014.

Star: Shinji Okazaki

Fresh from winning the English Premier League with Leicester City, the stock of the hard-working striker has never been higher.

Just one away from a half century of goals for his country and could well shoot the team into what would likely be his last World Cup.

Way to play

Will try and pass their way through even the tightest defences.


To qualify automatically while fine-tuning the team ready for an assault at the latter stages in Russia. Yes, expectations are high.

Did you know?

Coach Halilhodzic gave then-unknown Leicester City star Riyad Mahrez his international debut for Algeria in 2014 and took plenty of criticism from the Algerian media for doing so!

Japan's Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda celebrate a goal in World Cup qualifying.


The best team in South-east Asia is improving by the week. Finished above Iraq in the final round and will be especially dangerous at home.

Coach: Kiatisuk Senamuang.  Known as “Zico”, the young boss has been building an exciting young team that is capable of getting results.

Star: Chantatip Songkrasin  The winger is known as "Jay Messi" in Thailand and there is a collective intake of breath whenever he sets off on one of his dribbles.

Way to play

Coach Zico has developed a Thai tiki-taka style that can be very easy on the eye.


First appearance at this stage since 2002. Fans will be happy as long as there are a couple of wins at home and the team is competitive.

Did you know?

Former England internationals Bryan Robson, Peter Withe and Peter Reid all coached Thailand's national team in recent years.

The Thailand national team.


The 2007 Asian Champions are talented but inconsistent. Have not appeared at the World Cup since 1986 but can never be counted out.

Coach: Radhi Shenaishil  The 50 year-old took Iraq to the semi-finals of the 2015 Asian Cup but reaching the World Cup would be on a different level.

Star: Ali Adnan  Plays for Serie A side Udinese and can play as left-back or further up the pitch. "Asia's Gareth Bale" can be devastating on his day.

Serie A based Ali Adnan is a rising star of the Iraq side.

Way to play

When it works, Iraq's free-flowing football can be a delight to watch but you never quite know when you are going to get something more disjointed.


Third-place is possible and would satisfy fans back home who have become accustomed to disappointing qualification campaigns.

Did you know?

Iraq lost all three games at the 1986 World Cup by a single goal

The Iraq starting XI against South Africa in Rio.


The team has not qualified for the World Cup since 1990 but with its golden generation at its peak, this time could be different.

Coach: Mahdi Ali  The baseball-cap wearing tactician has risen through the ranks along with his players and there are none in Asia who knows his squad as well as Ali.

Star: Omar Abdulrahman  The bushy-haired playmaker is one of Asia's biggest and most exciting talents. No wonder Arsenal and Manchester City have been linked.

There's an injury worry for UAE star Omar Abdulrahman

Way to Play

Nicely. With Omar roaming around behind the frontline and talented strikers in Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil, sparks often fly.


Anything lower than third-place would be seen as failure and anything higher, a major cause for celebration.

Did you know?

The Whites have been coached in the past by the likes of Don Revie, Dick Advocaat, Carlos Alberto Parreira, Mario Zagallo, Valeriy Lobanovskyi, Roy Hodgson, Carlos Queiroz and Bruno Metsu!

UAE players celebrate scoring against Palestine in World Cup qualifying.


The former Asian powerhouse has fallen off its perch in recent years but is desperate to restore former glories.

Coach: Bert Van Marwijk  The Dutchman took the Netherlands to the final of the 2010 World Cup. Big-match experience is not going to be an issue.

Star: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi.  The striker scored 14 goals in the previous round of qualification. Fair to say he's on form.

Way to play

Pass the ball around quickly in a bid to get the forwards running behind the opposition defence as much as possible.

Saudi Arabian players celebrate a goal.


Always expect to get to the World Cup and will be hoping to get one of the two automatic spots.

Did you know?

Saudi Arabia were the second Asian nation—after North Korea in 1966 – to progress to the knockout stage of the World Cup. That 1994 campaign remains the high point in the country's history.