Australia are looking to silence critics when they take on a resurgent Qatar in their vital qualifier for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ on Saturday. Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek spent most of last week deflecting accusations that his overly-cautious approach in away matches has handed the advantage to Group A rivals Qatar and Iraq, who have now resurrected their respective qualifying campaigns after stuttering starts earlier in the year.
Iraq beat Australia 1-0 in Dubai last week thanks to a stunning 30-yard shot from Emad Mohamed. Meantime, Qatar upset China PR in Tianjin to enliven the pool. As things stand, both the Aussies and Qatar are on seven points and even a victory on Saturday will not guarantee either side an automatic spot in Asia's final qualifying phase, especially if Iraq, who are third on four points, were to win their next two games.
Verbeek, however, is refusing to panic. "We still have seven points. We knew we needed three points out of the last three games," he told journalists in Dubai, where Australia are training for the Qatar match.
"We have lost one, now it means we have to win one of the other two, it's as easy as that. We have to be prepared for the next game, it will be tough."
Verbeek's defensive approch has so far returned only four goals for Australia, three of which came against Qatar in their first meeting with the Gulf side earlier this year. The fourth goal came when they defeated Iraq 1-0 in Brisbane last month.
Australia were poor in Dubai, hardly managing a shot on goal in the first half, and they wasted good chances in the final stages of the game. Against Qatar, the Socceroos are likely to play captain Harry Kewell as the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Brett Holman behind, and Mark Bresciano and Brett Emerton on the wings.
Qatar have scored just three goals in their four matches, and the fact two were netted by Sebastien Soria Quintana would have no doubt forced the Aussies into coming up with a game plan to keep the Uruguay-born striker at bay. Quintana did not play for against Australia in Melbourne in February due to suspension, but since then has proved a thorn in the flesh for Iraq and China.
But Quintana and coach Jorge Fosatti may have other issues to settle with the Aussies. It was Australia who prevented the Uruguayans from qualifying for Germany 2006, and the latter, who was in charge of the South Americans then, has spoken about the opportunity he has for revenge.
"The last time I coached a national team, it was with my country Uruguay and I lost," Fossati said in February before the teams clashed in Melbourne. "Now I'm back to Australia but with a different team, a different dream and I think God gave me this chance to take my revenge on the Australians. Who knows? Maybe I will do it this time."
That did not happen then, but Fossati will have another chance on Saturday.