The Socceroos’ ultimate goal of automatic qualification to the 2022 FIFA World Cup will ultimately rest on their showdown against Japan next month.
Graham Arnold’s men sit in third in Group B, however only the top two nations will be handed direct passage to Qatar 2022.
This means they will need to sweep aside Japan – which currently sit in second with two crunch qualifiers left to play.
How did the Socceroos arrive at this point?
It has been a bumpy ride of late for the Socceroos as they look to secure their ticket to their fifth straight FIFA World Cup in Qatar later this year.
Graham Arnold’s side began the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in stunning fashion and enjoyed 11 straight wins – sitting top of their qualifying group ahead of their first meeting against Japan in October.
The following FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in November saw the Socceroos come away with a point against leaders Saudi Arabia, in what was their first game in Australia in almost two years.
However, the frustrating 1-1 draw against China that followed meant that some doubt had begun to creep in surrounding Australia’s direct qualification to Qatar.
Why is the Japan match so important?
It is quite simple, another defeat against Japan next month would dash Australia’s hopes of a direct passage to the FIFA World Cup later this year.
The Socceroos’ precarious standing means that if things were to stay as they are, then they would be forced into the tricky playoff route. A daunting proposition but a task which they managed to overcome in the past.
Many will remember that heart-in-mouth penalty shootout against Uruguay that saw them reach the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany while more recently the green and gold were faced with the treacherous two-legged playoff against Honduras to book their ticket to Brazil.
Although the Australian public may have fond memories of those aforementioned moments, it is not something that the Socceroos will be aiming to navigate this time around.
A defeat against the Blue Samurai will condemn the Socceroos to the playoff route and the form book is not pointing in their favour, with Japan on a five-match winning streak which began at the expense of the Socceroos in their reverse fixture.
That clash in Saitama also proved to be the last time that Japan conceded a goal as they sit in second – three points ahead of their Asian rivals. They are well aware that the three points will be enough for them to qualify for Qatar 2022.
What needs to happen for the Socceroos to automatically qualify?
Unfortunately, the Socceroos’ fate is out of their hands. However, all three points against Japan will significantly boost their chances of sealing automatic qualification.
A win coupled with their superior goal difference would see them leapfrog the Blue Samurai as they head into the final matchday. However, the job would not be done there as Arnold’s side will need to get a win away to Saudi Arabia to confirm their spot in Qatar.
However, anything less than the three points will make for some tense viewing, with Japan also vying for their place as they host Vietnam.