The Qantas Socceroos may be six points clear at the top of their group and safely through to the next stage of FIFA World Cup qualification but this is far from a dead rubber for Holger Osieck’s squad.
Australia v Saudi Arabia Date: Wednesday February 29 Kick-off: 8.30pm AEDT Venue: AAMI Park
Head-to-headPlayed 4, Australia 2 wins, Saudi Arabia 1 win, 1 draw
Previous Meeting: Saudi Arabia 1, Australia 3, World Cup qualifier, Dammam, September 2011
Past five matches: Australia: Thailand 0, Australia 1, World Cup qualifier, Bangkok, November 2011 Oman 1, Australia 0, World Cup qualifier, Muscat, November 2011 Australia 3, Oman 0, World Cup qualifier, Sydney, October 2011 Australia 5, Malaysia 0, friendly, Canberra, October 2011 Saudi Arabia 1, Australia 3, World Cup qualifier, Dammam, September 2011
Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia 0, Oman 0, World Cup qualifier, Riyadh, November 2011 Saudi Arabia 3, Thailand 0, World Cup qualifier, Riyadh, November 2011 Thailand 0, Saudi Arabia 0, World Cup qualifier, Bangkok, October 2011 Saudi Arabia 1, Australia 3, World Cup qualifier, Dammam, September 2011 Oman 0, Saudi Arabia 1, World Cup qualifier, Muscat, September 2011
Analysis: The Qantas Socceroos may be safely through to the next stage of World Cup qualification and six points clear at the top of the group but this is far from a dead rubber for Holger Osieck-s squad.
With a few new faces, a host of Hyundai A-League players and a couple of stars returning to the fold for the first time in a while, this is a big opportunity for some players to try and cement a spot in the squad moving forward.
There-s only three European-based in Osieck-s squad with the likes of stalwarts Tim Cahill, Luke Wilkshire, Mile Jedinak, Matt McKay and Carl Valeri not featuring for the hosts.
While those names have been vital members of the squad over the last few years, this is another chance to see just how good Australia-s depth is heading into the next stage of qualifiers beginning in June.
Names like Michael Marrone, James Troisi, Erik Paartalu, Mat Ryan, Michael Thwaite, Nick Carle and Adam Sarota have a great chance to press their claims.
This game also sees a return to the squad for veterans Mark Bresciano and Harry Kewell.
Bresciano hasn-t featured for the national team since the 2010 FIFA World Cup, while Kewell returns after missing the last three qualifiers through injury.
The duo-s form has been outstanding for their respective club side-s and while Osieck will be looking to give his new faces some match experience, Kewell and Bresciano should get a chance from the start to try and reinvigorate their international careers.
The Qantas Socceroos secured their path to the next stage of qualifying with a gritty 1-0 win in Thailand at the end of 2011 in their last match and come up against a Saudi Arabian side fighting for their World Cup lives.
The Saudis are currently second in the group, one point ahead of Oman and two clear of Thailand and need a victory over Australia to guarantee progression to the next stage.
Coach Frank Rijkaard and his side have put everything into preparation for this game, assembling together two weeks ago and spending time in camp in New Zealand to ensure they are at their peak come kick-off on Wednesday night.
The Qantas Socceroos were way too good when the sides met in their first meeting, with two goals from Josh Kennedy and a Luke Wilkshire penalty helping the Aussies to a 3-1 win.
But that will do little to dampen the spirits of the Saudis who will give everything to get a win and will fancy their chances against a side that might not have as much as an edge to strive for victory as themselves.
The Qantas Socceroos have a reputation for approaching every game the same, regardless of whether it-s a friendly or a competitive match.
And with a number of Australian players either looking to make a mark for the first time or re-establish themselves in the side, it ensures the Saudis will need to play at their best if they are any hope of progressing into the next round of qualifiers.
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