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It’s now or never for the Socceroos, who must beat Japan in Homebush to have any realistic hopes of qualifying directly for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Unfortunately for coach Graham Arnold, he oversees a squad beset with problems – not least Arnold’s second COVID-19 diagnosis. The Socceroos coach was handed a $25,000 fine by Football Australia during the week for breaching COVID protocols and it remains to be seen whether the embattled tactician even takes his place on the bench.
If Arnold is absent, assistant coach Rene Meulensteen will take charge. Whoever is in the dugout will be missing a host of big-name players, including playmakers Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic, midfielders Jackson Irvine and Riley McGree, long-term absentee Adam Taggart and the in-form Craig Goodwin.
The absence of so many frontline players means several lesser lights will be expected to step up, with Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Ajdin Hrustic set to play a key role as Australia’s playmaker on the night. Jamie Maclaren will lead the line in attack, with Bruno Fornaroli likely to feature off the bench, while Denis Genreau and Jimmy Jeggo are both in line to start.
Japan have problems of their own, with regular right-back Hiroki Sakai and first-choice striker Yuya Osako both failing to make the trip to Australia, while Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu and Celtic striker Daizen Maeda are other notable absentees. Coach Hajime Moriyasu remains unpopular in his homeland – in part because he continues to favour his regular favourites at the expense of a talented cast of reserves waiting in the wings.
That has had the unusual effect of making Japan overly reliant on a not-always-effective starting eleven, and there’s a distinct lack of goals in Moriyasu’s squad. The exception is Liverpool attacker Takumi Minamino, who looks Japan’s most reliable route to goal despite usually playing out wide.
The Samurai Blue will be fired up for a clash expected to draw around 40,000 fans to Accor Stadium. They view the Socceroos as one of their main rivals and will seal progression to the World Cup finals with a win in Homebush.
Venue: Stadium Australia, Sydney
Kick-off: 8:10pm AEDT
Broadcast: Channel 10
Live stream: 10 Play app and website
Betting: Australia $2.80, Draw $3.00, Japan $2.55 – odds via PlayUp