Despite joining the Asian Football Confederation only six years ago, Australia have quickly established their place among the continent's best, having comfortably booked their qualification for South Africa 2010, before going on to reach the 2011 AFC Asian Cup final. Against both Oman and Thailand they boast a dominant record, with Saudi Arabia the only likely team to challenge them.

Blessed with a host of Europe-based stars and guided by German tactician Holger Osieck, the Socceroos look very much the team to beat in the section. While a qualifying spot should be within their grasp, the other three teams look likely to fight for the second place among themselves, with the Saudis the best of the rest in the three-way battle.

The favourites
Australia: With Asia’s highest ratio of overseas-based stars, Osieck’s outfit is a formidable side for any opponent. Since their disappointing campaign in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, where they suffered an early exit after the group stage, the Socceroos have slowly clawed themselves to form, finishing runners-up at January’s Asian finals before avenging their 4-0 FIFA World Cup loss to Germany with a 2-1 friendly win in Monchengladbach.

The outsiders
Saudi Arabia: The past two years have proved to be forgettable for the Gulf side, who failed to qualify for South Africa 2010, before finishing their group with the wooden spoon at January’s AFC Asian Cup. Determined to restore their lost credibility, the Saudis swept past Hong Kong 8-0 on aggregate to reach Asia’s third qualifying round and with Frank Rijkaard in charge, the three-time Asian champions are desperate to prove themselves by securing their fifth FIFA World Cup appearance.

Oman: Having coming so close to progressing to Asia’s final qualifying round on the road to both Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010, the campaign-hardened Omanis have showed they are more than capable of mounting a serious challenge for the section’s two qualifying spots.

Players to watch
Lucas Neill (AUS), Sasa Ognenovski (AUS), Josh Kennedy (AUS), Tim Cahill (AUS), Yasser Al-Qahtani (KSA), Naif Hazazi (KSA), Mohammad Al-Shalhoub (KSA), Mohammed Noor (KSA), Ali Al-Habsi (OMA), Nataporn Phanrit (THA)

The crunch match
Australia-Saudi Arabia
The two sides are tied historically, with each boasting a win in their three meetings. Matches between them should not only guarantee a place in the top two finishers, but also serve as a morale-booster heading into the final phase of qualifying.

A look back
Australia 1-1 Oman, 8 July 2007, Bangkok
Despite losing home and away to Australia in qualifying for the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, Oman underlined their improvement by restricting the team from Down Under to a 1-1 draw in the continental finals. Badr Al-Maimani struck on half-hour to put the Gulf side ahead and it was only Tim Cahill’s effort in injury time which earned the Australians a hard-fought draw.

The stat
13 -
The number of goals Australia scored en route to the final at Qatar 2011, including six unanswered goals against Uzbekistan in the semi-finals.

Did you know?
With Australia relying on a Europe-based contingent, the current Saudi squad largely features those plying their trade with local clubs.

Have your say
Having left his coaching mark with Barcelona, can Rijkaard rediscover his magic touch by guiding Saudi Arabia through? With a host of Australia’s key players in their 30s, how will Osieck cope with an aging squad?