Soccer / World Cup

Socceroos looking to wrap up qualification for Russia 2018

Kyodo

Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said on Wednesday he will not take his foot off the gas even though the Socceroos’ World Cup qualification chances were given a boost with Saudi Arabia’s overnight loss to the United Arab Emirates.

The second-place Saudis’ 2-1 defeat means Australia, third in Group B, can qualify automatically for next year’s World Cup in Russia if it beats group leader Japan on Thursday at Saitama Stadium — and vice versa.

Australia, which hosts last-place Thailand in its final group game on Tuesday, has never lost to Japan in seven previous World Cup qualifiers, with a pair of wins and five draws.

Postecoglou, however, said his team will stay the course in what is left of the buildup to arguably the biggest game of his international coaching career.

“It doesn’t really change things for us that much,” Postecoglou said. “At the end of the day, our destiny is in our hands and that’s the way we’ve wanted it to be from the start.

“Obviously, whoever wins tomorrow night will qualify, but we’d be looking for a win regardless. I watched the game and it’s hard to win in the UAE. We got three points there, but we had to work hard to get them.

“We do know there’s quality on all teams and if you’re not on your game, you could lose. The pressure probably got to Saudi Arabia a little bit, they’ve been on the cusp of qualification the last couple of games and they’ve lost two games.”

While Australia has an unbeaten record in World Cup qualifying against Japan, it has never won on Japanese soil in its past 23 attempts at full international level.

Postecoglou said the prospect of beating Japan away will be meaningful to his team, and not just because victory Thursday will punch Australia’s ticket to Russia.

“Certainly our intent has been to progress as a team — it’s not just about qualifying for us,” he said. “We want to continue to evolve and become a really strong team to compete at a World Cup and do well.

“If you can beat Japan at their home, it’s a good indicator that you’re a strong team. We’re going to have play well tomorrow night so it’s not extra motivation — it’s a target of ours.

“Tomorrow’s not just about getting a result. It’s about playing well against a quality opponent and showing that we have progressed as a team.”

Postecoglou may have a minor selection headache on his hands for the game, however, with Luzern striker Tomi Juric unable to train for the second straight day on Wednesday.

Postecoglou said the Swiss-based Juric picked up a minor knock on Sunday but would be ready to go for the Japan game, yet how much he can contribute up front on Thursday remains to be seen.

Juric or no Juric, Postecoglou made it clear that Australia will take the game to Japan.

“Our intent always is to dominate the game and we’ll see how things pan out,” he said.

“I don’t think one side has an advantage over the other. All the games between Japan and Australia are even. We obviously have a great deal of respect for their team and their players, and I think they have respect for us.

“I expect it to be very tight with so much at stake. From our perspective, we’ll just go into the game like we have in every other World Cup qualifier so far and try to win. So far it’s worked out okay for us.”

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