SEOUL, South Korea — Australia is hoping to get its World Cup qualification campaign back on Tuesday in Sharjah with a win that would almost certainly end China’s slim hopes of returning to the Middle East next November.
One point from the last two games has resulted in the Socceroos slipping into second in Group B at the halfway stage, three points behind Saudi Arabia, the two teams drew 0-0 in Sydney on Thursday, and just one above Japan. Only the top two from each of the six-team groups are guaranteed a place at the Qatar World Cup.
Failure to win in Sharjah, the game has been switched from China due to travel restrictions put in place by Beijing to combat the spread of Covid-19, could see Australia slip out of the two places that guarantee a place in the Qatar World Cup in each of the six-team groups.
Coach Graham Arnold is staying positive despite the recent setbacks. “We’re in a great spot, it’s all in our hands,” Arnold said. “If you’ve got something that’s in your hands, you’re in a great position rather than having to rely on other results.”
Australia will be without Harry Souttar as the giant Stoke City defender picked up a knee injury against Saudi Arabia.
China, with just one World Cup appearance in its history, has just four points out of the five games so far to increase pressure on coach Li Tie. Defeat would likely spell the end of any ambitions of finishing third and entering the play-off route to the World Cup.
Following the 1-1 draw with Oman on Thursday, there have been growing calls for Li to resign though former China coach Zhu Guanghu has defended the current boss.
“Very few of the current crop of Chinese players are hungry for football,” Zhu said. “Just like what Sir Alex Ferguson said about the Chinese players, they can play the ball well when not being challenged. But when under challenge with limited space, they cannot do it.”
Saudi Arabia can move a step closer to a sixth World Cup appearance with a win over Vietnam which has lost all five games so far. Japan travels to Oman currently with seven points from five games,
In Group A, Iran and South Korea are moving clear. Iran scored twice in the closing minutes to defeat Lebanon 2-1 on Thursday to stay first with 13 points. Iran takes on Syria, bottom of the group with just two points while Korea will stay on course for a tenth successive World Cup appearance with a win over Iraq in Qatar.
Korea captain Son Heung-min hit the woodwork twice as Korea defeated United Arab Emirates 1-0 on Thursday and the Tottenham Hotspur star is looking for more goals.
In the group’s other fixture, Lebanon in third hosts United Arab Emirates. (AP)