(Reuters) – Australian dreams of a fifth straight World Cup appearance will be on the line on Tuesday when they go head-to-head with the United Arab Emirates in Al Rayyan for a chance to keep alive their hopes of returning to Qatar for November’s finals.
The Socceroos have qualified for every World Cup since 2006, when the country secured only their second ticket to the finals after making their debut in 1974, and once again the Australians are taking a circuitous route to the tournament.
Australian fans are no strangers to World Cup playoffs, having experienced the heartbreaking loss on away goals to Iran in 1997 and John Aloisi’s penalty that defeated Uruguay in a shootout to send the Socceroos to Germany in 2006.
They defeated Honduras to book a berth in Russia four years ago after first seeing off Syria in an Asian playoff, and now Graham Arnold’s outfit will need to travel along a similar path if they are to qualify.
The winners at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Tuesday will progress to another one-off playoff against Peru six days later with a ticket to the finals up for grabs.
“It’s a big game for us as a country, and we are right up for it,” Australian midfielder Riley McGree said.
“We are just taking it as a game that we need to prepare for and to go and win, no matter what.”
The two nations last met in the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup in 2019 with the UAE shading a tight game 1-0 when Ali Mabkhout scored following a defensive error.
That was the only win for the UAE in six matches against the Socceroos going back to 2011 with three defeats and two goalless draws in the other clashes.
A draw after 90 minutes on Tuesday would see the tie resolved in extra time or, failing that, a penalty shootout.
The Emiratis are seeking only a second qualification for the finals 32 years after making their debut in 1990 and coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena has recalled skillful former Asian player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman to his squad for the match.
They should be backed by a majority of the crowd after the UAE federation bought up 5,000 tickets to be distributed for free to fans making the short trip from the Emirates.
“We know the coming match against Australia will not be easy, but we are waiting for the great support from our fans, because their presence is the most important motivating factor,” said midfielder Abdullah Ramadan.
“It raises morale and increases the ambition and enthusiasm in the hearts of the players during the next match.”
(Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong, Editing by Nick Mulvenney and Jacqueline Wong)