As far as bad timing goes, Australia's World Cup qualifying preparations couldn't have had it much worse.

Socceroos World Cup qualification

  • Australia must win against Japan on Thursday if they hope to automatically qualify for this year's World Cup.
  • A favourable result against Saudi Arabia next week is also required for progression.
  • Australia are currently third in the Group behind Saudi Arabia and Japan, with only the top two automatically progressing to Qatar.

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On Thursday they face Japan at Sydney's Accor Stadium knowing they must win to keep their chances of automatic qualification alive before next week's trip away to group leaders Saudi Arabia.

Failure to beat the second-placed Japanese and a difficult road of intercontinental play-offs to get to Qatar awaits.

"For us, as Australia, we need to expect to be at every World Cup," said midfielder Denis Genreau.

"It's up to us to continue that tradition and follow those expectations."

Missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 2002 would prompt questions about the state of the game and how the Socceroos got to this point.

After starting Group B with three straight wins, they now have just one win in their last five and their depth will be severely tested against the two teams above them in the group.

Aaron Mooy, Craig Goodwin, Jackson Irvine, Kye Rowles and Nikita Rukavytsya have been prevented from joining up with the national team because of COVID-19.

Coach Graham Arnold won't know if he can replace assistant Rene Meulensteen in the dugout until game day after catching the virus for the second time this year and then breaching isolation by walking his dog.

Injuries have also ruled out Harry Souttar, Riley McGree and Tom Rogic, while Jamie Maclaren is getting married so will miss the trip to Jeddah.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and Football Australia were forced to turn to 37-year-old Sydney FC defender Alex Wilkinson less than 72 hours prior to kick-off.

While he is unlikely to play, Wilkinson's recall to the Socceroos for the first time since 2016 came after Melbourne Victory's Matt Spiranovic caught coronavirus and Melbourne City knocked back a request to release Curtis Good.

Club versus country rows are never palatable but on the eve of the Socceroos' two biggest games in five years, the drama over Good's availability doesn't augur well for the local game.

The selection of Perth Glory's 34-year-old Uruguay-born striker Bruno Fornaroli now seems to have been relegated to a footnote in this camp's list of unlikely twists and turns.

Meulensteen said on Wednesday he had never known a build-up like it in his career.

On the same Tuesday morning that Australia's camp descended into disarray, Sydney-born prodigy Cristian Volpato, who is under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho at Roma, was taking bathroom selfies in his Italy under-20s tracksuit.

While over in Scotland, Arnold's predecessor Ange Postecoglou was waxing lyrical about how good life is at Celtic and how he felt underappreciated down under.

Japan only need a draw to secure their direct passage to Qatar and send Australia on an unenviable play-off qualification route.

Australian football has always turned to a saviour at times of trouble, be it Frank Lowy, Guus Hiddink, Sam Kerr or Tim Cahill.

"These are the games you want to be remembered by," Meulensteen said. "Our message is this: play to be remembered."

The time for a new saviour to arrive is now.


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