International football is back. After a four-month break, a fresh-looking Caltex Socceroos are in the South Australian capital to face Central Asian opposition in Tajikistan at the Adelaide Oval this Thursday night.
This is the first of two World Cup qualifiers on Australian soil with Harry Redknapp's Jordan facing the Aussies in Sydney four days later to round out this phase of FIFA World Cup Russia 2018™ qualification.
And with the Jordanians two points behind Australia and also with two games left, Ange Postecoglou’s side are in pole position to top the group – but is anything ever that cut and dried in world football?
Ange's troops will be confident of taking another significant step towards Russia when they face Tajikistan, a nation out of contention and with nothing to lose (the Tajiks sit 83 places below them in FIFA’s world rankings).
The new-look Adelaide Oval is not only a world-class venue in the stands but a pristine surface will suit the home side who will want to get the ball on the deck to unleash their passing and possession game.
Ange has brought in a few fresh faces for this clash and there’s a vibrant feel to what they could dish up on Thursday night.
And the Socceroos certainly have the players to make the most of the conditions with the majority of the squad in good form and peak condition.
Celtic's Tom Rogic – fresh from his wonder goal for the Bhoys on the weekend – A-League superstar Aaron Mooy, Massimo Luongo and Palace skipper Mile Jedinak will all look to impose themselves on the match in midfield.
But the boss has already had to deal with a couple of injury blows, with Matthew Spiranovic and Terry Antonis both forced to withdraw from the squad.
What a luxury though to be able to call on experienced duo Alex Wilkinson and Matt McKay to fill the breach.
Whether those two play a part remains to be seen but goalkeeper Mat Ryan (a late arrival into Adelaide) is likely to get the nod after winning back his number one jersey at Valencia recently after not playing in the last five qualifiers.
The fullback areas remain the most interesting position with four exciting youngsters all vying for the two spots.
Perth Glory’s rising star Josh Risdon and Liverpool's Brad Smith would appear front-runners on the right and left respectively but the impressive Jason Geria (Melbourne Victory) and new Rosenburg signing Alex Gersbach are pressing for selection.
The midfield is where the Aussies will look to dominate.
What a plethora of options: Jedinak, Rogic, Mooy, Luongo and Mark Milligan should ensure the home side have the bulk of possession and control large chunks of the match.
And in attack, the ageless Tim Cahill, new name Apostolos Giannou (Greek Super League fans will know all about him) and J-League based Nathan Burns are all in strong form with their clubs.
Tajikistan made life difficult for the Aussies in Dushanbe last year, their ultra-defensive game proving tough to break down for the best part of an hour before they fatigued in the face of the Aussies' relentless pressing.
They are likely to deploy similar tactics here, looking to hit on the counter attack at Adelaide Oval and reveling in the under-dog role.
Wily forward Manuchehr Dzhalilov, who scored four goals in the 5-0 rout of Bangladesh earlier in the qualifying phase, looms as the Central Asian outfit’s main weapon.
But given Australia’s performances on home soil earlier in the group stage, they will be confident as well as buoyed by an expectant crowd of around 30-40,000 in the City of Churches.
The Caltex Socceroos are back in Adelaide for the first time in five years. And with a new-look squad and flash new kit, there is much excitement in the South Australian capital.
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