Socceroos drawn with Japan, Saudi Arabia in World Cup qualifiers

For the fourth straight World Cup qualifying campaign, the Socceroos have been pitted against Asian powerhouse Japan. Australia on Thursday were drawn in Group B for the third phase of qualifying along with the Samurai Blue, Vietnam, Oman, China and Saudi Arabia.

It comes after Japan and Australia faced each other in the same stage of qualifying on the road to the 2010, 2014 and 2018 World Cups. Australia also played Saudi Arabia in the 2018 qualifiers, finishing third behind Japan and the Middle East nation to send them into an arduous play-off route to Russia.

The top two teams from each group will qualify for Qatar 2022 with the third-placed teams to advance to a play-off. The winner of that match then takes on a nation from a different confederation for a two-legged play-off with the winner qualifying for the World Cup.

After claiming a perfect eight wins from eight matches in the second phase of qualifying, Socceroos coach Graham Arnold was bullish about his team’s prospects.

“What we learnt in the second phase where we had to play seven out of eight games away from home, and we won all eight games, has given the players a lot of belief and confidence when they play away from home,” Arnold said. “We’ve shown in that second phase a lot of resilience and, as I said, a lot of belief so wherever we play we expect to win every game.”

Iran, who Australia are still yet to play since the two nations’ infamous World Cup play-off in 1997, have been drawn in Group A along with South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Australia and Japan have a long rivalry that includes the Socceroos’ first win at a World Cup finals when a Tim Cahill-double inspired a 3-1 victory in Germany in 2006. All up, the Socceroos have won seven of 25 matches against Japan but their last came in 2010. Japan have won four of the past seven encounters since then.

Matches in the third stage of qualifying are scheduled to be played in September, October, November, January, February and March but actual dates and venues are yet to be confirmed.

Depending on travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, matches may be played in a tournament-style hub at a centralised venue, as they were for the final games of the second phase last month.

Group A: Iran, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon
Group B: Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, China, Oman, Vietnam