The shaky defence of recent games will be fortified with Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenovski returning as central pairing in a game where a draw in Saitama will see Australia climb back into second on the table. Jordan, currently in second, has the bye, while the winner of Oman v Iraq would leap-frog Australia and dump Jordan to fourth. The group is that close. Osieck’s decision makes sense as Australia then has two home games in which to simply maintain their position.
“Why Neill” as so many ask on the football forums? Plenty of chances have been given to the youngsters and they haven’t stepped up. Look against Oman where the defence was easily penetrated. Neill is still the best defender. He’s being made the scapegoat for the team’s average performances simply because of his age. As for Og, it wasn’t so long ago fans were crying for him to start for the national team. No defenders have surpassed him; he’s done little wrong either. Fans are so fickle. Remember, it’s about qualifying, not any individual game, and clearly Osieck’s thinking a draw suits fine.
More interest will be forward. Given that Japan is almost an expendable game, it would not surprise if a few surprises are sprung and maybe snag a result in Japan. Josh Kennedy’s long-awaited return will certainly offer something different. Most likely any move will come later in the game after a substitution. While early in the game would really catch the Japanese off guard, it would then leave the team open to an onslaught. If it fails, no real harm done. Holger can return to the more conservative approach for the final games and would also have a mandate to do so given the failure in Japan.
Note that this match really is almost expendable. If Australia wins their two final games – both at home – it’s almost certainly enough. Remember that in a playoff it’s so well desired to play the the home match last? Well, what’s better than one home game last? Two! This time, away-goals don’t count as double, unlike the Iran Game.
* Apologies for the abridged update. A broken collarbone from a bike crash with typing limited to one bruised left hand.
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