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What is the Socceroos' path to automatic World Cup qualification?

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23rd January, 2022
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The Socceroos will recommence their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign this Thursday at AAMI Park when they host Vietnam in their seventh game of the third round of qualifying.

Graham Arnold has selected an experienced squad but has also included the uncapped trio of Joel King, Kye Rowles and Marco Tilio.

The Aussies beat Vietnam 1-0 the first time these two teams met and while Vietnam took it up to Australia on that occasion, the Socceroos would expect to be able to deal with Vietnam on home soil.

After winning their first three games of this round of qualifying, which doubled as the tail end of an 11-match winning streak – the record for a team in a single qualifying campaign – the Socceroos recorded a loss (Japan away) and two draws (Saudi Arabia home and China away) in their last three games.

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In the eyes of some, these results derailed the qualifying campaign and scuppered any chance of finishing in the top two of their group which would mean automatic qualification to Qatar 2022.

The alternative route to qualifying for the Socceroos is finishing third in their group, beating the third place finisher in the other AFC qualifying group in a one-off game, which is currently United Arab Emirates.

If they are to get through UAE, they are set to play the fifth-place team in CONMEBOL qualifying, currently Peru but also potentially Colombia, Chile or Uruguay. Put simply, this path is to be avoided at all costs, so this is how the Socceroos qualify for their fifth straight World Cup automatically.

Current ladder
Saudi Arabia 16
Japan 12
Australia 11
Oman 7
China 5
Vietnam 0

Game 7 results and summary
Australia kick off this round of qualifying with a 2-0 win over Vietnam. Japan account for China 3-1 at the Saitama Stadium while Saudi Arabia grind out a 2-1 win over Oman.

Australiaand#039;s players pose for a group picture prior to the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Australia and Oman

(Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)

Ladder of potential qualifiers after Round 7
Saudi Arabia 19 points
Japan 15
Australia 14
Oman 7
China 5

Game 8 results and summary
Japan host Saudi Arabia in a crucial top-of-the-table clash with a cagey affair ending in a 1-1 draw thanks to a late equaliser from Saudi Arabia. Vietnam pick up their first win of the campaign with a 1-0 win over China. The Socceroos narrowly get past Oman with a 1-0 win showing tremendous resolve.

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Ladder of potential qualifiers after Round 8
Saudi Arabia 20 points
Australia 17
Japan 16

Game 9 results and summary
In an absolutely crucial game for the Socceroos, at home they host Japan at a yet-to-be confirmed venue and eke out a 2-1 win over the Blue Samurai to clinch their place at the World Cup. Elsewhere Oman account for Vietnam 2-0 and Saudi Arabia beat China 3-0 having already qualified.

Ladder of top 3 after Round 9
Saudi Arabia 23 points
Australia 20
Japan 16

Game 10 results and summary
In a series of dead rubbers, Oman beat China 2-1 at home, already qualified Australia and Saudi Arabia play weakened teams with Saudi Arabia scoring a convincing 2-0 win and Japan dispatch Vietnam 5-0.

In summary Saudi Arabia and Australia qualify automatically as two of the 32 teams to compete for World Cup glory in Qatar starting November this year while Japan will now attempt to qualify through a series of one-match playoffs.

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The two pivotal games in this scenario are Japan-Saudi Arabia on 1st February and Australia-Japan on 24th March. Provided these results go in the Socceroos favour they should be okay to book their spot in Qatar.

Perhaps qualifying for a fifth-straight World Cup in this manner papers over the bigger cracks in Australian football. However the game is in a perilous position at the moment and not qualifying for the World Cup provides further ammunition for the naysayers to pile on the game.

Alternatively, history tells us for those few weeks when the Socceroos are toiling away trying to get out of their World Cup group, a large portion of the Australian public get behind the team and non-football people come along for the ride.

It all needs to start with a win over Vietnam on Thursday night.

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