After losing to Japan’s own Samurai Blue last Thursday, things are starting to look pretty dire for the Socceroos’ FIFA World Cup campaign in 2022. If you’re looking for an analysis of the shortcomings of Graham Arnold’s coaching, or a breakdown of how injuries and COVID-19 have struck down Australia’s national side, there are plenty of other great articles that cover that. Here, we are just looking at what the path actually looks like for the lads in green and gold.
The importance of Australia’s recent World Cup qualifier loss to Japan should not go understated. Had the Socceroos won this game, then followed it up with a win against Saudi Arabia in Jeddah on Wednesday, the team would claim all six points required to automatically qualify for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Instead, the underdog Socceroos lost at home 2-0 to a side that continues their streak of eight straight wins against Australia.
Now, we’re looking at a desperate playoff path in order to qualify. It wasn’t like anyone was expecting Australia to be competitive in the FIFA World Cup, but we have at least qualified on every occasion since the historic 2006 edition. I think everyone would have hoped that the Socceroos would at least be in Qatar this December.
Any memories of the world record 11 consecutive wins earlier in this World Cup campaign have long been forgotten. Football fans in Australia are becoming frustrated with our stagnant development relative to regional rivals, as well as Graham Arnold’s struggles with coaching this side.
While the Socceroos are now out of contention for automatic qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it is not the end of the road. With the 4.5 slots issued for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) – which includes Australia – the Socceroos are still only two wins away from qualifying, but this time in the play-offs.
Australia has competed in nine playoffs in the history of the World Cup, having qualified three separate times this way. This particular outing, Australia’s national side are guaranteed to finish in third place in Group B, which makes what was previously considered to be a vital match against Saudi Arabia on Wednesday essentially rendered irrelevant, as the Green Falcons have already secured qualification and our Socceroos are already out of the running.
So, now we are looking at a one-legged play-off game against the third-place finisher of Group A. We will know for sure which team this is on Wednesday morning when the final round of the AFC Group Stage is played. Right now, it is hotly contested by three teams vying for the play-off sport:
- UAE: Currently hold the third spot in Group A, but need to beat South Korea (who have already qualified, currently holding the top spot of Group A) to clinch the position.
- Iraq: Sit a point behind the UAE at fourth, but have the easier match against Syria (who sit at the bottom of Group A).
- Lebanon: While Lebanon still has a mathematical chance of cracking the third spot, we are unlikely to see them. They would need results to go their way, as well as a five-goal swing to get ahead on goal difference.
This was originally scheduled to be a traditional, two-legged home-and-away tie between the groups, but due to the pandemic, it will now be a one-off held on neutral ground. It is set to be held in Qatar on Tuesday, June 7th.
Assuming we win this (because at this point we have to hope), we would then have a play-off against the fifth-placed CONMEBOL side. This too will be a one-legged match played in Qatar, with the winner earning their spot in the FIFA World Cup.
The three teams in that conversation are Peru, Columbia and Chile – each with one match left to play (with theirs also taking place on Wednesday morning).
Will the Socceroos qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar? It’s not impossible, but I definitely wouldn’t bet the house on it.