Despite having AFC heavyweights Japan in their group, the Socceroos first up encounter with Iraq might be the most crucial and toughest match-up.
The Socceroos head into tonight’s first qualifying match full of confidence. After getting through the second round rather untested, tonight and in fact the whole third round of qualification is a completely different playing field.
You could hardly argue that, the current squad is the best at Ange Postecoglou disposal since he got the national team job back in the latter part of 2013. Players like Aaron Mooy, Massimo Luongo, Tom Rogic and Tomi Juric have started their club seasons in scintillating form. Mooy especially, is lighting up the Championship in England with Huddersfield Town, with the former Melbourne City and Western Sydney Wanderer winning player of the month for August after only a short time in England.
Of course add the experienced minds in captain Mile Jedinak, Mark Milligan, Matthew Spiranovic and the A-League’s newest recruit Tim Cahill, the squad that has been assembled is one that should wipe the floor with the Iraqi national side.
But, as the Socceroos have showed us time and time again, sometimes this just in not the case. In fact, a Socceroos side featuring the bulk of the squad that featured at the 2006 World Cup including golden generation stars Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and co were torn to shreds by an unknown Iraq side in the 2007 Asian Cup, which the Middle Eastern side would go on and win the Cup for the first time in their history.
Now whilst the Socceroos record against Iraq is favourable, since that loss in the Asian Cup in 2007, Australia has won four of the past five encounters with Iraq, losing once in the 2008 World Cup qualifying campaign. However, all wins home or away, there has only been one goal difference between the two sides.
It has always been a difficult assignment for the Socceroos when they are up against Iraq, with the Lions of Mesopotamia always proving a difficult opponent. That is why tonight’s fixture is of extreme importance to not just get the result that’s anticipated but to finally put to bed nine years of uneasiness.