The Road To Russia 2018 ramps up in the West tonight as a battle-hardened foe face the Caltex Socceroos in the opening clash of the final group phase of World Cup qualification.
“Win your home games” is always the mantra in Asian qualification.
Particularly so in this group with the Australians facing tricky away tests in the UAE, Saudi, Thailand, Japan and Iran (where Iraq will host).
So Ange Postecoglou’s men know a win is the only acceptable result, while Iraq you sense would be more than happy with a point.
The good news is, all 23 Australian players have presented well in camp (the last player to arrive was Alex Gersbach), the squad have had three sessions at Perth’s Rectangular Stadium and the strongest possible starting XI will be picked to do the job.
Ange Postecoglou and his team's meticulous preparation now comes into play.
The familiarity of Iraq stems from some epic battles with the Green and Gold over the last decade.
Their Golden Generation stunned Australia at the 2007 Asian Cup, while there was a measure of revenge at the 2011 edition for the Australians.
Then there was that epic 2013 World Cup qualifier in Sydney with the Socceroos edging it 1-0 to book a spot in Brazil.
Much has happened since that night three years ago with both nations moving forward with new coaches and a new and exciting generation of players.
The Iraqis are fighters on the football pitch, we know.
But this squad under the canny guidance of Rahdi Shenaishil is very much one in transition following that special era of Younes Mahmoud, Nashat Akram and others.
That said, Serie A-based Ali Adnan can get up and down the pitch on the left with Dhurgham Ismael, while playmaker Yaser Kasim of Swindon (a former teammate of Brad Smith and Massimo Luongo) is class.
And Ali Husni from the Turkish League is highly rated. The 113th ranked nation have some very, very good footballers and their preparation has been excellent (a number of international warm up games over the last month plus a clash with Perth Glory last week).
Then there’s Ali Abbas.
You can’t take the smile off his face this week. He’s loved being back “home” after eight years in Australia, many of them with his beloved Sky Blues.
He could write his own headlines if he scored a winner against the nation that took him in.
Is that likely? Well, anything is possible in football but this Australian team is pretty special.
Handily, some of the key Australian players from the Chinese Super League have had a rest last weekend with many likely to start.
The back four is likely to have the same central two who helped Australia win the Asian Cup, while Mile Jedinak provides the experience and backbone as a holder.
But it’s in the final third where it gets really exciting. Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic are in career best form in the UK. They will ask a lot of questions of the Iraqis.
And they’ll likely have any combination of Tomi Juric, Robbie Kruse, Mat Leckie and even Tim Cahill to work with in the final third.
Don’t expect an open encounter tonight.
Iraq will look to disrupt, defend and try win the game on a moment. Australia will press high, suffocate, attack and try dominate their opponent in dangerous areas.
An early goal to the Australians and that should set the platform for a win before they head off to Abu Dhabi for their next challenge.
That said, Ange Postecoglou will settle for a goal in time added on if it means three points.
The serious business of World Cup qualification begins tonight.
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