The Socceroos’ current predicament isn't ideal but it is an opportunity for the team to re-capture the imagination of Australian sports fans.
While both players and fans alike would have preferred to secure qualification already, the road that Australia must now tread to get to Russia can help inspire a nation once again.
Australian fans are accustomed to play-offs or finals to decide a winner, so the prospect of two knockout ties is one that will resonate with fans of other sports.
For football fans, a league or group format is normal, though fans of other sports in Australia are used to a season or competition ending with a knockout series or final.
These are the fans that might show more interest in October and November and help football’s growth in Australia,
For the Socceroos, the timing of the upcoming matches is quite convenient - just after the AFL and NRL grand finals.
Fans of those other sports wandering what to do until the cricket season starts can get behind the national team.
If Australia can get past Syria, the play-off against the fourth best team in CONCACAF would be in November, with the second leg more than a week before the first Ashes Test in Brisbane.
It’s a rare window for football to dominate in Australia and the Socceroos would have more media attention than normal.
In 2006, Australia were the second last team to qualify, while four years later, only the hosts, South Africa, and Japan qualified before them. The 2006 qualifying campaign culminated in an unforgettable night in Sydney as John Aloisi’s penalty sent Australia to the World Cup for the first time in 32 years.
In contrast, Australia’s first campaign in Asia to qualify for the 2010 tournament allowed more competitive football, but has no abiding memories like the ones from that match in Sydney four years earlier.
These (potentially) next four matches could create similar memories.
Beating Syria is Australia’s first objective and the Qasioun Eagles shouldn’t be underestimated, though should Australia manage to get through that test, there is the potential of playing the USA in the intercontinental play-off.
The Stars and Stripes sit in fourth place in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying and could also find themselves in unfamiliar territory, after qualifying without a play-off for every tournament since 1990 (including as hosts in 1994).
Australia can relate to that and after qualification in 2010 and 2014, it has almost been taken for granted that the Socceroos would do the same again this time round, without going down the play-off route.
This new territory is an opportunity for the players. If they are able to navigate their way to Russia through through two two-legged knockouts, it’ll make them stronger as a team.
The pressure will be higher but such pressure makes the best players thrive and gives them an opportunity to have their own Aloisi moments.
The team would be better for the experience and it could stand the players in good stead for Russia.
The nation will be behind them all the way.