On Tuesday night, the Caltex Socceroos end 2016 with a tricky test in Thailand on a vital night for World Cup qualification in Group B.
Crucial qualifiers to end 2016
November 15 looms as a pivotal night for Group B.
Going into their fifth game of ten in this final group phase of World Cup qualification, Australia, second in Group B on eight points, need a victory against the War Elephants to keep pressure on group leaders Saudi Arabia (10 points) and third placed Japan (seven points).
They meet in Saitama on the same night in a blockbuster.
With the top two sides automatically qualifying for the World Cup in 2018, plenty's riding on Tuesday night's results.
Whatever the result in northern Tokyo, if Australia win they’ll be on 11 points, holding them in good stead for the final five qualifiers next year (of which three, handily, are on home soil).
If Australia and Japan win, Australia will end the year on top of the group by a point.
On the other hand, the Saudis could go five points clear at the top if they win in Japan and the Thais pull off a major upset.
Then there is UAE.
In fourth and at home to fifth-placed Iraq, a victory will keep Mahdi Ali’s men in the mix on nine points from five games.
Whatever happens, three points for the Socceroos and a good performance are the only outcomes Ange Postecoglou will want from his final game of 2016.
Preparations and tactical approach
Australia's preparations for this clash have been hampered by injuries to key names.
Tomi Juric, Massimo Luongo and back-up keeper Mitch Langerak are out. Tim Cahill was also rested for this camp.
In are Hyundai A-League midfielder Luke Brattan from Melbourne City, striker Apo Giannou from the Chinese Super League and back up keeper, Swansea City's Mark Birighitti.
That said the Socceroos assembled in Bangkok some eight days before this game.
Not only will this give the squad valuable preparation time for Thailand, it will also give Ange Postecoglou time for "next level" planning, which includes how to better break down sides that set up to frustrate and hit on the counter.
It may come in handy against Thailand.
Senamuang may've looked at the Japan game at Etihad and figured out sitting back in two banks of four, staying defensively solid and using the pace and skill of a Chanathip Songkrasin on the counter could be the way to go.
Do they have enough concentration to do that for 90 + minutes?
It’s a tough ask – especially for a nation with plenty of eye-catching tiki-taka talent in their ranks.
And they tried that approach against Japan and lost 2-0.
Perhaps it'll be a night for the Thais to throw caution to the wind and go for it. Three points would surely lift their fans and the nation.
Thailand in mourning
This qualifier is being played out amid the backdrop of a nation that has been in mourning for the King of Thailand.
There'll be plenty of emotion at the Rajamangala and a huge crowd is expected at the cavernous venue situated on the outskirts of Bangkok.
How this sentiment affects Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang’s players remains to be seen.
Bangkok has been a happy hunting ground for the Socceroos, with the green and gold winning their previous two games in the Thai capital. But these weren’t walkovers.
Australia only just defeated the Thais 1-0 in Bangkok five years ago, also in a World Cup qualifier.
While in Brisbane in the home leg of that group, Thailand took an early lead after a swift counter-attack before second half goals to the Socceroos won it 2-1.
Previously, in 2007 at the Asian Cup in Bangkok, Australia eased past the Thais 4-0 – though the result was in the balance till the 80 th minute before the Aussies scored three times on the break in the last 10 minutes.
So, it’s never been an easy game against the Thais.
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