By Lucas Rinaldo and Giacomo Bruno
The second round of Asian Qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup commences in September, following the draw this week.
Australia have been drawn in Group B, facing off against Japan once again and missing out on a chance to avenge that dreaded loss against Iran in 1997.
Vietnam have progressed to the final round of World Cup Qualification for the first time since competing as a unified country in 1991.
Finishing one point off top spot in Group G in the second qualifying round, the southeast Asian nation won five out of eight games, drawing twice, and losing once. Their second placed finish also booked them a spot in next year’s Asia Cup
On September 7 later this year will be a historic clash, with the Socceroos taking on Vietnam for the first time.
Đặng Văn Lâm
The goalkeeper been a strong performer for the Southeast Asian nation, having stood up in recent tournaments.
His performances at the 2018 AFF Championship, 2019 Asia Cup and more recently in the first and second World Cup qualifying rounds have been crucial to his nation’s recent rise.
Nguyễn Tiến Linh:
Prolific on the international stage, Linh scored five goals during the second qualifying round.
Having scored six goals in 15 games for Vietnam’s U23s, his form has translated with the senior team, scoring seven goals in 16 appearances for Vietnam.
Quế Ngọc Hải:
A mainstay in defence for the national team since 2014, Hải has been an inspirational leader from the back.
Solid at the back, Hải push pushes forward to create attacking chances, having scored twice in the qualifiers.
Oman stormed through Group E of the second qualifying round winning six of eight games to finish second in the group with 18 points.
Having missed out on the final round of the 2018 World Cup qualifications, the Reds made amends this time around also securing 2023 Asia Cup qualification in the process.
Oman’s first game against the Socceroos on October 7 will be their ninth encounter, an opposition which the Middle Eastern nation have defeated only once. Their most recent encounters was friendly in 2018 and in the 2015 Asia Cup in which Australia easily won 5-0 and 4-0 respectively.
Abdul Aziz Al-Muqbali
A proven goal scorer throughout international tournaments, Omani forward has Al-Muqbali scored twice in the second rounds of qualifying.
His goal output will be critical to his nation’s success in the upcoming qualifying fixtures.
A dual position player who has played at either in central midfield or as a left winger, Al-Khaldi creates attacking chances through midfield and has scored himself during the qualifiers.
A tricky winger who drives the attack for Oman, Al-Alawi has scored five goals in his 13 caps, four of which came in the second round of qualifying. Al-Alawi will be one for Socceroos defenders to be wary of.
Japan topped Group F in the second round of qualifying in emphatic style winning all eight games, scoring an incredible 46 goals and conceding just twice.
Japan have appeared at the past two world cups and should be a lock-in to appear once again as one the strongest sides in Group B.
Japan will be a familiar opponent for the Socceroos having met 24 times in the past. Australia have failed to defeat Japan in their past seven attempts and will look to buck that trend in their next two upcoming clashes.
The attacking midfielder has been in-form at both club level for Bundesliga outfit Frankfurt, and at international level.
Kamada having made just five appearances through the first two qualifying rounds was impactful with three goals and two assists. Beginning to now assert himself into the Japanese team, he will be a key contributor with his attacking prowess.
While he’s struggled at club level for Liverpool, the attacking midfielder has been in hot form for his nation.
Minamino has scored 10 goals already in the qualifying rounds, proving to be a key part of the Japanese team.
The versatile attacking midfielder has been a standout performer for Japan during the qualifying rounds.
While he’s struggled for Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga this season, at international level Osako has been a proven goal scorer. A player can also play up front has scored eight goals and assisted twice so far in the qualifying rounds so far.
China progressed through the Second Round in flying colours. Drawn alongside Syria, Phillipines, Maldives and Guam, The Dragon’s Team lost just once and won every game once the qualification switched to a hub format in June, including an impressive 3-1 win over Syria on the final matchday. China hasn’t qualified for a World Cup since 2002 but this is arguably its strongest side since that time, as seen by its run to the Quarter-Finals at the 2019 Asian Cup.
Australia and China haven’t competed at senior level since the Socceroos’ 2-0 win at the 2015 Asian Cup in Brisbane, a game that is largely remembered for Tim Cahill’s overhead kick. Outside of that, China surprisingly hold a slight advantage over the Socceroos at senior level, having won eight games to Australia’s seven. T
he Asian Cup win is also Australia’s only win over China in a competitive game, with China stunning Australia 1-0 in Sydney during qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, as well as a 4-3 win over an undermanned Socceroos outfit at the 2013 EAFF East Asian Cup.
Lei is China’s only current squad member plying his trade abroad, last season playing 31 times for Espanyol in the Spanish Segunda Division. He was described by former China boss Xu Genbao as the ‘Chinese Maradona’ and earned praise from Manchester United manger Ole Gunnar Solksjaer in 2013. Lei has scored eight goals in qualifying thus far, only Ali Mabkhout (UAE) and Takumi Minamino (Japan) have scored more.
The 32-year-old won the Chinese Footballer of the Year award in 2020 and has long been one of China’s key players. The midfielder currently plays for CSL side Shanghai Shenhua and has represented the Chinese national team 71 times.
Saudi Arabia sent a message to the rest of Asia with its Second Round qualifying form, going undefeated and conceding just four goals. Playing on home soil in Riyadh for the hub portion of qualifying, the Saudi’s didn’t concede a goal and their impressive form was highlighted by a dominant 3-0 win over Uzbekistan.
Australia boasts an impressive record against The Green Falcons, having lost just once in eight meetings. Most recently the two sides faced off during World Cup qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, with eventual Socceroos boss Bert van Marwijk earning a 2-2 draw against Ange Postecoglou in Jeddah before a brace from Tomi Juric and a goal from Tom Rogic earned the Aussies a 3-2 win at Adelaide Oval in June 2017.
26-year-old Fahad Al-Muwallad is the centrepiece of this Saudi Arabian side, having scored 17 goals in 61 appearances for Saudi Arabia and played over 150 games for Al-Ittihad.
The 29-year old winger was Saudi Arabia’s top scorer in the Second Round with five goals and has long been a difficult player for the Socceroos to handle. He scored against Australia in qualifying for both the 2014 and 2018 World Cups and was once brought on as a substitute against Real Madrid while on loan at Villarreal in 2018.
While Australia were handed a kind Second Round draw, the Socceroos’ form in Qualifying thus far has certainly been impressive. Japan and Australia were the only two nations to win every game in the second round and only Qatar and Korea Republic can boast a better defensive record than Graham Arnold’s side.
While Leckie is no longer plying his trade in the Bundesliga, it could prove to be a blessing in the disguise for the Socceroos. Leckie had been deprived of regular game time in the latter part of his spell in Germany, and regular football at Melbourne City could assist in increasing his output for the national team.
Ryan continues to be the first name on the team sheet for Graham Arnold, with his experience in one of the biggest league’s in the world a trait that is sorely missed throughout the rest of the current squad. His club future is currently up in the air after his loan at Arsenal expired, but his 60 caps for the national team means only Leckie is more experienced at international level in this current Socceroos squad.
Not only has Souttar been a rock at the back for Graham Arnold, the Stoke City defender has also been a weapon in front of goal. Souttar has scored six goals in five games in qualifying, meaning he currently has as many international goals as Jamie Maclaren and Adam Taggart.
AUSTRALIA’S PREDICTED FINISH:
For the Socceroos the task is identical to the one it faced during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Third Round Qualifying, with heavyweights Japan and Saudi Arabia standing in Australia’s way. However, Tim Cahill is no longer around to save the day in the big moments. This is undoubtedly Australia’s toughest test to qualify since joining the Asian confederation, particularly with the possibility of games being unable to be played on home soil. Kick360 predicts Australia will once again have to face a play-off match to qualify but as long as the Socceroos are not drawn against the dreaded fifth placed CONMEBOL side, Australia should advance to its fifth consecutive FIFA World Cup.
Image Supplied: Asian Football Confederation