Last night, after the completion of the draw for the final round of 2014 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, the Socceroos captain Lucas Neill expressed his confidence that Australia will qualify.
Taking to Twitter, he wrote, “As predicted no easy opponents but a kind group as far as travel goes!! I am confident we will get to Brazil!!”
And why shouldn’t he be confident.
According to FIFA he is the captain of the highest ranked nation in the Asian Football Confederation.
Tetsu Hirai, the Japanese team manager, was similarly confident. “It’s definitely a good draw and there is the expectation for us to win in this group and we will happily work hard to meet this expectation.”
Along with the Japanese, this should also be the expectation of all Socceroos fans.
There will be two races in Group B. The race for first place between Australia and Japan, and the race for the third placed play-off spot between Iraq, Jordan and Oman.
This is not showing disrespect to our other worthy opponents, but a reflection of current football realities. Apart from the talented Omani and Wigan goalkeeper, Ali Al-Habsi, no other player from these three west Asian nations is currently plying their trade outside the Middle East in an elite competition.
With the Socceroos having to play three of their first four matches away from home, the pressure will be on manager Holger Osieck to start the final phase of qualifying on the right foot.
Even allowing for the odd bad result, Australia will have the insurance of their final two games being played at home in June 2013 against Jordan and Iraq.
Unless you are a glass-well-below-half-full Socceroos fan, the final game against Iraq on June 18 2013 will not be a nerve-fraying fight for second place and qualification.
At the very latest, I expect our golden ticket to Brazil to be presented to us after the penultimate match against Jordan.
It is the two matches against the Samurai Blue that have Socceroos fans salivating, as the heavyweights in the group square off for the first time since the Asian Cup final in January 2011.
Japan’s participation in the Confederations Cup in June 2013 caused a re-jig with their match schedule. Rather than being given the fixtures of Team 2 as per their seeding in Group B, they were given the fixtures of Team 5.
This means that we won’t have to wait until the very last match to watch two already qualified teams like we did last time at the MCG in 2009. The Socceroos will now meet Japan at home in three months’ time in what will be a searching early examination of their World Cup credentials.
Osieck let slip on television last night that the match will be played at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
The return match on June 4, 2013 could very well be the title fight where Samurai Blue team manager Tetsu Hirai and football manager Alberto Zaccheroni hope to land the knockout blow and finish top of the group on their way to Brazil 2014.
Korea Republic (ranking: 30)
2014 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers – Fourth Round fixtures
Sunday, 3 June 2012 Australia – Bye
Friday, 8 June 2012 Oman v Australia
Tuesday, 12 June 2012 Australia v Japan
Tuesday, 11 Sept 2012 Jordan v Australia
Tuesday, 16 Oct 2012 Iraq v Australia
Wednesday, 14 Nov 2012 Australia – Bye
Tuesday, 26 March 2013 Australia v Oman
Tuesday, 4 June 2013 Japan v Australia
Tuesday, 11 June 2013 Australia v Jordan
Tuesday, 18 June 2013 Australia v Iraq
Athas Zafiris is on Twitter @ArtSapphire