Socceroos seek to reprise Saudi heroics

The Qantas Socceroos 3-1 victory in Saudi Arabia last September was a pivotal result in helping them on their way to Round Four FIFA World Cup qualification.

The Qantas Socceroos 3-1 victory in Saudi Arabia last September was a pivotal result in helping them on their way to Round Four of 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification.

Ahead of the return contest at AAMI Park on February 29, we take a look back at that match, and what it meant on the road to Brazil 2014.

Despite the presence of Oman and Thailand in the group, the critical match for the Qantas Socceroos was always likely to be the away visit to four-time FIFA World Cup finalists Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis, who have long a power on their own continent, came to global prominence with a sparkling 2-1 victory against Belgium at USA 94, in what was west Asia-s first win at a FIFA World Cup.

The pedigree then is undeniable, and with the much-celebrated newly-appointed Frank Rijkaard at the helm, the Socceroos were in for a tough evening.

The 15,000 all-male crowd set the Dammam venue alight long before kick-off with loud singing and chanting directed at the visitors even during warm-up, making for a highly intimidating atmosphere. The hostile atmosphere remained throughout a tough opening half until five minutes before the break, when Josh Kennedy grabbed one of the more important goals of his Qantas Socceroos career.

Despite few sights of goal at either end until that point, Australia suddenly found themselves in the ascendency. An almost an unnerving silence descended with the yelling of players and coaches suddenly audible, where just minutes early a cacophonous environment held sway. It remained that way with Kennedy grabbing his second soon after the break, precipitating a mass departure for the exits.

Nassir Al Shamrani pulled a goal back midway through the second period and the touch paper was suddenly lit again. The remaining fans generated significant noise with the contest once again in the balance.

Luke Wilkshire-s penalty quickly ended a ten-minute period of local optimism and ensured the venue was virtually empty by full time. It was indeed a famous night in the proud history of the Qantas Socceroos, but that was then and this is now.

The looming clash in Melbourne promises to be a very different affair in almost every conceivable way. The Dammam match was contested in oppressive 35 degree heat despite the 8.30pm kick-off.

The Australian squad were forced to arrive in the Saudi city on three different flights such was the logistical challenge dealt to team management.

The Saudis were last time without their talisman, AFC Player of the Year nominee Yasser Al Qahtani.

In Melbourne Saudi Arabia will be playing to keep their Brazil 2014 ambitions alive, with a draw potentially not enough to avoid an unthinkably early exit.

With so much riding on this result for the visitors, it promises to be a very different encounter between two heavyweights of Asian football. Five months is indeed a long time in football.