Australia bank on home comforts for run to Russia
By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's campaign to reach a fourth straight World Cup finals received a fillip with their first win in five qualifiers on Tuesday but there is plenty yet to be done to secure a ticket to Russia.
The 2-0 victory over the United Arab Emirates in Sydney briefly put the Asian champions joint top of Group B before Japan thrashed Thailand 4-0 and Saudi Arabia edged Iraq 1-0 in later matches to re-establish their shared three point edge.
The good news for Australia in their quest to secure one of the top two spots that guarantees a place at next year's finals, and avoids the playoff route offered by a third place finish, is that two of their remaining three matches are at home.
"We always know at home we're a dominant team," coach Ange Postecoglou said after the UAE win.
"We worked awfully hard, we pressed the way we wanted to and created opportunities. And we deserved the victory."
Australia's next qualifier, the very definition of a six-pointer, is against the Saudis in Adelaide on June 8 and they follow that with a trip to Japan in August before rounding out their campaign at home to lowly Thailand in September.
Between the Saudi and Japan fixtures, Postecoglou will get a chance to gauge progress on his mission to build a side that can not only qualify for World Cup finals, but also win matches on football's biggest stage when they get there.
The June 17-July 2 Confederations Cup in Russia is likely to offer the biggest test yet of the Postecoglou Project, with world champions Germany, South American champions Chile and African champions Cameroon all in their group.
With half an eye on that tournament, Postecoglou has abandoned a back four defence and lined his side up with wingbacks in a 3-4-3 formation for their last two qualifiers.
It worked in parts against the UAE on Tuesday, even if the wide players did not always do the best with the final delivery, the back three looked susceptible to long balls and both goals came from set pieces.
Despite a welter of media criticism, Postecoglou did not look like a man about to abandon his experiment when he spoke to reporters afterwards.
"If someone has got a system out there that stops oppositions from doing anything, it's 11 against nothing," he said.
"It's a game of football. We've got to try and score goals which we did (but) the opposition are going to create opportunities.
"If people want the perfect system it's probably their hot water system at home, but it ain't a football system."
(Editing by John O'Brien)