I have decided that I will be attending all of the W-League Sydney FC home games this season – not because I feel obliged or because I’m a Sydney FC fan, but purely because the football is amazing.
The best way to look at Holger Osieck’s selection of the Socceroos squad to face Saudi Arabia is to walk a mile in the expensive shoes of Frank Rijkaard.
Last July, the embattled Saudi manager signed a three year contract for a reported $15 million.
After qualifying for four consecutive World Cups and then missing out on the 2010 World Cup, the Saudi’s turned to the Champions League winning manager to guide the Green Falcons to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
However, what was supposed to have been perfunctory qualification in their Asian preliminary group has turned into a nightmare.
A listless 3-1 home loss to Australia was bad enough, but a 0-0 home draw in their last match against Oman was disastrous; a win would have been enough to secure their passage through to the next phase.
To guarantee second spot in their group the Saudis now have to defeat the Socceroos next Wednesday in Melbourne. If they don’t and Oman or Thailand get maximum points in Muscat then the Saudis will face the prospect of a humiliating early exit.
Frank Rijkaard is in a very difficult position but he has two important factors in his favour.
The match is not being played on a FIFA international match day and for the Socceroos it is a dead rubber as they have already clinched first spot and progressed to the next round.
As a result Osieck selected a Socceroos team almost unrecognizable to the one that defeated Saudi Arabia in last September’s desert heat.
In fact, there will seven players missing from that successful starting line-up:
The left back Zullo, the right back Wilkshere, the two holding midfielders Jedinak and Valeri, the left sided midfielder Mckay, the withdrawn forward Holman and the spearhead Kennedy have not been selected either through injury or unavailability.
This is the 19 man squad that Rijkaard and the Green Falcons will be up against.
Goalkeepers: Mark Schwarzer (Fulham/England), Mathew Ryan (Central Coast Mariners)
Defenders: Lucas Neill (Al Jazira/United Arab Emirates), David Carney (Bunyodkor/Uzbekistan), Michael Marrone (Melbourne Heart), Mark Milligan (Melbourne Victory – loan from JEF United/Japan), Jade North (Consadole Sapporo/Japan), Sasa Ognenovski (Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma/Korea Republic), Matthew Spiranovic (Urawa Red Diamonds/Japan), Michael Thwaite (Gold Coast United)
Midfielders: Mark Bresciano (Al Nasr/United Arab Emirates), Nicky Carle (Sydney FC), Brett Emerton (Sydney FC), Erik Paartalu (Brisbane Roar), Adam Sarota (Utrecht/Netherlands), James Troisi (Kayserispor/Turkey)
Forwards: Alex Brosque (Shimizu S-Pulse/Japan), Harry Kewell (Melbourne Victory), Archie Thompson (Melbourne Victory)
Rijkaard already knows that Osieck prefers to play with 4-4-1-1 formation and he will be hoping to exploit the Socceroos where they look most vulnerable.
Namely, at right back where a player like Marrone will be making his international debut, at left back where players like Carney and North have combined to play less than six hours of first team football in the last nine months and the likely inexperienced defensive midfield pairing of Paartalu and Milligan.
He will be wary of the return to the Socceroos squad of 32 year old veteran Mark Bresciano, who has found goal scoring form for his team Al Nasr in the UAE, and Harry Kewell who is expected to start as a striker.
Rijkaard is leaving no stone unturned and no expense will be spared in preparations for this crucial match. He has selected a 26 man squad with the only notable absentee being the injured veteran star midfielder Mohammed Noor.
He will be relying on the rich attacking talents of Naif Hazazi, Nasser Al Shamrani and Yasser Al Qahtani to expose the makeshift Australian rearguard.
So while we in Australia argue about the relative merits of the squad Osieck has chosen, and whether players like Rose or Bojic should have been picked, spare a thought for the immense pressure the Saudi players and Frank Rijkaard will be under.
The Saudi people have massive expectations and so do the people of Oman and Thailand.
One nation in our group will join us in the next phase of qualifying. The performance of the Socceroos next Wednesday night could very well determine who this will be.
They will come up against a Saudi team with nothing to lose and it will be a great rehearsal for the bigger tests to come.
Team GP W D L GF GA +/- Pts
AUSTRALIA 5 4 0 1 9 3 6 12
SAUDI ARABIA 5 1 3 1 4 3 1 6
OMAN 5 1 2 2 1 6 -5 5
THAILAND 5 1 1 3 4 6 -2 4
Athas Zafiris is on Twitter @ArtSapphire