Both are coming off a win. Both are ambitious and both will feel a spot in Russia is possible. UAE host Australia in a Group B blockbuster on Tuesday night (Wed 1.30am AEST) in Abu Dhabi.
Last Thursday night in a cool Perth, Caltex Socceroos got off to the ideal start to qualification for FIFA World Cup Russia 2018™, winning 2-0 in over Iraq. But in the heat of the UAE capital, this test will be much tougher.
Mahdi Ali’s UAE pulled off a shock win over the Samurai Blue in Japan on the same night.
Little wonder their national team are the toast of the local media right now, and with a reported free entry to the stadium, expect a big, raucous home crowd for the match at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium.
Even at this early stage of qualifying the winner here would take a giant stride towards Russia 2018.
Caltex Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou has hinted he’ll make a few changes to the side that saw off Iraq, with all 23 players in the squad available for selection.
So it’s likely we’ll see a different 11 – and possibly a new formation.
Postecoglou went for a diamond in midfield against Iraq, with Tom Rogic at the point flanked by Aaron Mooy and Massimo Luongo and skipper Mile Jedinak holding, with Tomi Juric and Mathew Leckie up front.
It worked well with the amount of possession the visitors allowed Australia to have but the Caltex Socceroos boss also has the option of reverting back to a 4-3-3 which will allow more width to their game.
The heat is sure to be a factor as well, with the forecast tipped to be hovering near the 30C mark around kick-off time.
So it will be paramount for the Caltex Socceroos to control the tempo and try work the home side’s defence around when they have possession.
Australia last played the UAE in last year’s AFC Asian Cup, running out 2-0 winners in the wet in Newcastle with goals from Trent Sainsbury and Jason Davidson.
But this UAE side has continued to improve since then and have been building towards these qualifiers for some time.
While they may be a relatively young squad, they are full of quality. They are regarded as their country’s golden generation, which is why the win over Japan in Saitama should come as no shock.
Playmaker Omar Abdulrahman is undoubtedly their star man, with the ability to unlock any defence. It’s no wonder some big EPL clubs have been monitoring the 24-year-old.
While he makes UAE’s attack sizzle, there are also a couple of strikers which could cause headaches for the Caltex Socceroos defence.
Ali Mabkhout offers speed and a powerful shot while Ahmed Khalil – who scored both goals against Japan – is arguably their biggest X-factor.
But while the UAE have some dangerous players, so do the Caltex Socceroos.
Rogic, Mooy and Luongo combined superbly against Iraq and their ability to find pockets of space in the front third is a feature of Australia’s attack.
They will not only have UAE’s defenders on high alert when they pick up possession in between the lines, but their ability to spot the runs and pick out passes for the likes of Leckie, Robbie Kruse and Juric is exciting.
Juric was a real handful on Thursday night and may be rewarded with another start here, although talisman Tim Cahill is fresh and could also be unleashed on a UAE defence not always comfortable from crosses.
The Caltex Socceroos shouldn’t expect the same type of game they faced against Iraq.
At home and with a hostile home crowd behind them, UAE won’t sit as deep as the Lions of Mesopotamia and will try and impose their own football and tempo on the match.
It could work in Australia’s favour as they certainly have the attacking arsenal to strike if given too much space in the front third.
However, with Australia expecting UAE to come at them, this could mean bringing a Matt Spiranovic in to stiffen the defence.
An absorbing contest awaits in Abu Dhabi.
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