Oman vs Australia: live scores, blog (WCQ)
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Former Socceroos coach Holger Osieck. (Image: AP)
The Socceroos play their opening game tonight in Group B of the AFC Fourth Round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers away to Oman, in Muscat. Join us at 11pm tonight for minute-by-minute commentary as the Socceroos enter the final stages in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Firstly, a quick refresher on where the fourth round of qualifiers stand in relation to the ultimate goal of reaching Brazil 2014.
Two groups of countries remain in the battle to qualify from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Each group comprises five countries.
Australia is in Group B alongside Japan, Iraq, Jordan and Oman.
The countries which finish in the top two gain automatic qualification to the 2014 World Cup, and Australia and Japan are currently the favourites to take out those two spots.
The country which finishes 3rd in the group enters the 5th and final stage of the AFC qualifiers. It will play the team which finishes 3rd in Group A in a two-legged play-off, and the winner will play the 5th placed country from CONMEBOL (South America) in a two-legged play-off.
The other four countries in Group B have already played a game. Our opponents tonight, Oman, lost 3-0 to Japan in Saitama five days ago, while on the same night Jordan and Iraq fought out a 1-1 draw in Amman.
Oman had a tough time of it in their first game, being completely outplayed in every facet of the game by the Blue Samurai.
The coach of Al-Ahmar (The Red), Paul Le Guen, lamented the lack of big game experience in his squad, not being used to the intensity at this level of the game, and generally talked his team down a fair bit.
It is worth noting that one of Oman’s better players on the night, was perhaps their best known international, the Wigan goalkeeper, Ali Al-Habsi, who pulled off a string of impressive saves.
The bad news for Oman is that their quality central midfielder, Fawzi Bashir will miss the game due to suspension, having collected a second yellow against Japan.
The main threat in the Omani team is accomplished striker Amad Al Hosni, with an impressive strike rate at international level. In fact, he scored the winning goal the last time Oman hosted Australia in November last year.
That’s an important point to keep in mind, although Australia had won the previous three encounters before the loss last year, in the 2007 Asian Cup, Oman nearly pulled off another 1-0 victory before Timmy Cahill saved the day at the 90th (again).
The main advantage for Oman is the holy trinity of the Real Estate’s cry: location, location, location!
The Socceroos found the going difficult last time in Muscat, and on this occasion get to play the game a couple of hours earlier, expect temperatures approaching 40 degrees at kick-off.
That’s not good news for a team where over half the starters are 32 plus years old.
Under the circumstances, Socceroos coach, Holger Osieck, would be hoping for some younger, fresher legs, but it would appear none have put up their hand demanding selection.
Australia’s two best players against Denmark were old stagers Mark Bresciano and Harry Kewell, aged 32 and 33 respectively.
Over the years we’ve been used to Bresciano having more advanced roles, and being deadly close to goal, but in recent times he has slotted into a more central midfield role with some success.
The big question will be: who will be his more defensive partner in the middle out of Carl Valeri and Mile Jedinak? Is it possible to fit in all three if Osieck runs with a 4-3-3?
With Brett Holman unlikely to make the trip due to the birth of his second child, we are likely to see the return of Josh Kennedy to a centre-forward role, with Kewell playing directly behind him in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
With Kewell’s capacity to drop back and help in midfield, and with Bashir missing for Oman, I think Osieck will stick with Jedinak and Bresciano in the middle, utilising Valeri off the bench to shore things up once the Socceroos take an early lead.
Another selection decision needs to be made in the heart of defence (in fact, across the back four, to be perfectly honest).
Matthew Spiranovic did not have the best of games against Denmark, and this might open the door for Sasa Ognenovski to partner Lucan Neill. The only thing that can save Spiranovic is if Osieck opts for his younger legs (by 10 years) due to the hot conditions and the need to maintain some pace at the back.
We’ve become accustomed to the left flank being a bit exposed, but I can’t remember a situation where both flanks carry question marks.
The Wilkshire-Emerton combination on the right side has been temporarily broken up, and there are some doubts about the match fitness of Rhys Williams, although early indications are that he and Wilkshire will fill the right side positions.
After all these years, the Socceroos are still scrambling to fill the left-back position, which will most probably go to David Carney, allowing Matt McKay to play a left midfield role.
If either can provide attacking width down the left wing, they are both capable of spotting up Kennedy in the box who is likely to have the better of an inexperienced Omani backline.
Tonight it’s all about getting one or two goals up very quickly in the piece, and letting the Omanis chase the game.
Bresciano is good with the set pieces, at both direct shots on goal and hitting targets in the box, and this will be another valuable avenue to goal.
On this occasion, I see the Australians having that bit more experience and firepower to edge out Oman 2-1.
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