Top-seeded Australia must face Asian champions Japan, as well as Iraq, Jordan and Oman, in their final Asian qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“It’s going to be a tough group, particularly the road games,” said coach Holger Osieck after Friday night’s draw in Kuala Lumpur.
But Osieck said he was confident the Socceroos would emerge from their eight-match, year-long final phase with one of the two top spots, guaranteeing a berth in their third consecutive World Cup finals.
“Logistically they are easy places to access, and you don’t have to worry too much about visa issues and so on,” Osieck said.
“We know what is at stake now and we know what we have to deliver.
“We have to be right there from the start, from minute one.”
Minute one for the Socceroos will take place on June 8 in Oman, the only nation to beat them in the previous qualifying group, which they topped with five wins from six matches, the last against Saudi Arabia in Melbourne earlier this month.
Osieck acknowledged that the first game was the toughest in any qualifying tournament, as expectations were always so high.
Memories of that 1-0 away loss to Oman are still fresh in their minds.
But their second match, at home against Japan, shapes as one of the key encounters of the group, especially because of the quick turn-around.
There is only a four-day gap after the game in Oman before the Socceroos step out in Brisbane to face what should be their toughest opposition.
The Japanese have a more impressive World Cup record, having reached the finals four times since 1998 and the round of 16 twice, in 2002 and 2010.
That is something the Socceroos have managed only once, in Germany in 2006.
Only a whirlwind three-goal finish got Australia home against Japan at that tournament, when defeat in Kaiserslautern looked inevitable.
The Japanese also deprived Australia of their first Asian championship in the final in Qatar last year.
FIFA’s rankings have Australia at No.20 in the world, 13 spots above Japan, but that will count for little when the teams play.
The return encounter in Japan is almost a full year later, so the Socceroos will have to rigidly maintain their standards.
Osieck knows little about 83rd-ranked Jordan, but expects Iraq (76th) will be a handful, having finished top of their previous qualifying group with 15 points.
One plus for Australia is that Iraq will almost certainly play home games in neutral territory, probably in Dubai or Qatar, because of security concerns.
“Iraq have good players, like Iran, and they are tactically shrewd,” said Osieck.
“It’s a good challenge but I think we will be on top of it.”
Asia’s top 10 teams are split into two groups of five, the other group comprising South Korea, Iran, Uzbekistan, Qatar and Lebanon.
After home and away matches against all four opponents, the top two nations in each group will progress straight to Brazil while the third-placed teams face further qualifiers.
The Socceroos dates are:
June 3, 2012 – bye
June 8 – away v Oman
June 12 – home v Japan
Sept 11 – away v Jordan
Oct 16 – away v Iraq
Nov 14 – bye
March 26, 2013 – home v Oman
June 4 – away v Japan
June 11 – home v Jordan
June 18 – home v Iraq.