Australia must prove they can fight in the fiery World Cup temperatures if they are to reach a fifth straight World Cup final in Qatar this year, according to embattled coach Graham Arnold.
The Socceroos take on United Arab Emirates in Doha on Tuesday for the right to play Peru in an inter-continental playoff six days later. The winners of that game will go into a group against defending champions France in November.
Following a spectacular collapse in form, Arnold’s job could depend on results in Qatar, where New Zealand and Costa Rica will also dispute a place at the finals on June 14.
Australia set a FIFA record of winning 11 qualifiers in a row up to last October to top their Asian group. But then they won only one of their seven following matches and ended third behind Saudi Arabia and Japan.
The Emirates side, looking for a first appearance at the finals since their debut in 1990, just claimed third spot in their group ahead of Iraq to reach the playoff.
Outside the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, temperatures are soaring past 40 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit) during the day, but the match will start at 9.00pm (1800 GMT) and Qatar’s specially developed stadium air conditioning will also help the two sides.
Arnold is less worried by the temperatures than his side’s ability to fight back from a goal down. UAE beat Australia 1-0 when they met in the Asian Cup quarter final in 2019.
Australia have shown a similar lack of fight in the past six months but did come back from a goal down to beat Jordan 2-1 in their last friendly against Jordan last week.
“What we have been driving since we got into camp is reaction when we lose the ball. I have been disappointed over the campaign about the mentality of that,” Arnold told Australian media after the Jordan game.
Midfielder Riley McGree said that getting revenge for 2019 could help in Tuesday’s match. “It’s a big game for us as a country, and we are right up for it,” he said.
Honour is also at stake for UAE, where Argentine coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena only took over in February.
The Arab team are 26 places below Australia at 42 in the FIFA rankings but believe an upset is possible as they will have thousands of fans in the stadium.
Veteran UAE striker Ali Mabkhout, who scored the winner in 2019 and has more international goals than the whole Australia squad combined, insists the two sides are “evenly matched”.
“Being just 180 minutes away from a World Cup is an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often. Our fate is in our own hands,” he declared.
© Agence France-Presse