Caltex Socceroos' WA-born defender Trent Sainsbury has told Perth media September’s clash with Iraq in Perth looms as one of Australia’s most crucial fixtures on the road to Russia 2018.
Ange Postecoglou’s side kick off the final phase of World Cup qualification against the 2015 Asian Cup semi-finalists on September 1 before facing a tricky UAE outfit away five days later.
Australia has also been pitted against Asian powerhouses Japan and Saudi Arabia in a difficult group, with Sainsbury stressing the importance of kicking off the campaign with maximum points.
“Iraq is a very important game for us to get our qualifiers started off,” he told the West Australian newspaper.
“We want to start off with a win, especially on home soil.
“This is probably the most important game the Socceroos are going to have in a while in terms of tests and the three points needed.
“They say every first game in a qualifying tournament is the most important. We want to start off positively. Not every team in Asia is going to be a pushover, especially away. Sometimes it’s very hostile.”
At just 24, Sainsbury has developed into one of Australia’s most consistent performers and is arguably the nation’s first-choice central defender.
In January, the former Mariners stopper completed a move from PEC Zwolle in Holland to Jiangsu Suning in the Chinese Super League with, with some questioning whether the switch would jeopardise his place in the national team.
But Sainsbury believes consistent football against quality opposition and a tailored fitness program will ensure he remains firmly entrenched within the Socceroos set-up.
“Moving to China, there were a lot of questions asked about what my role in the national team was going to be from now on in,” Sainsbury said.
“I’ve got no doubts that I can remain at the top level in the team.
“Physically my body is in good shape. I’ve played 22 or 23 games in a row now and I’m coming up against good opposition.
“I’ve spoken to the national fitness coach and I’ve got extra programs off him just so I can keep topped up.
“I’m doing everything I can to stay ahead of the curve.”