Australia and Oman head into today’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifier in Sydney with both teams describing the contest as crucial.
The pair sit equal second in Group B alongside Iraq, with Australia holding a narrow lead on goal difference, as well as having a match in hand.
“It is a very crucial match,” said Australia coach Holger Osieck. “We want to win it. There are no ifs or buts.”
Veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was also at pains to stress the importance of the contest. ''It goes without saying the first four games have been tough but this is going to be the toughest game to date because of the importance of the game … pure and simple, “ he said.
“Oman are steadily progressing and we know if we don’t play to the best of our ability it will be a very, very difficult night for us.”
Australia won 3-0 when they last hosted Oman during the previous stage of Brazil 2014 qualifying at the same venue 18 months ago, while the pair played out a tough scoreless draw in Muscat’s afternoon heat last June.
The home side believe they are well prepared after a rare opportunity to spend a week together in camp.
On the debit side for the Socceroos long-serving skipper Lucas Neill is forced to watch from the sidelines due to suspension, as is defensive midfielder Carl Valeri.
The unavailability of Neill, as well as Sasa Ognenovski and Mathew Spiranovic, will leave the heart of the Socceroo defence with an unfamiliar look.
Osieck, though, is satisfied with the growing depth of his squad. “I have to admit - and I haven’t before on many occasions - that I have some [selection] headaches,” said Osieck. “There is a great deal of players with decent quality, and players that have made tremendous progress in the past couple of months. These are not just players knocking at the door, but they have gone through it.”
Osieck’s confidence in the increasingly new look Australia squad is a view shared by Australia talisman Tim Cahill who described the process of squad regeneration as ‘fantastic’.
“We are at stage now where the ability of the [new] boys and their stature is fantastic,” Cahill told FIFA.com. “To see these kids pushing us [older players] for spots, we couldn’t be happier for the squad as a whole.”
Oman seek to break new ground
Although Oman have impressed on previous occasions against the Socceroos – they were notably denied a famous win at the 2007 AFC Asian Cup by an injury-time Cahill equaliser – but they have yet to win on Australian soil.
The visitors will also be without experienced campaigner Fawzi Bashir who recently retired from the national team set-up.
The 28-year-old former captain’s influence for the team was recently compared to African greats George Weah and Samuel Eto'o by former Oman coach Claude Le Roy, now in charge of Congo DR.
In-form forward Abdulaziz Al Muqbali is shaping as a key threat for Oman having scored a hat-trick against Haiti last week and the winner against Syria in last month’s AFC Asian Cup qualifier.
“We have a little bit more experience,” said Le Guen comparing his current side to that which last lined-up against Australia in Sydney. “We have refreshed the team a little bit. They know the stadium and the opponents which could be useful.
“They [Australia] are supposed to qualify but maybe we can cause a surprise. Why not.”
Japan sit comfortably clear at the summit with an eight point lead, while Jordan, who host Samurai Blue in Amman later on Tuesday, are at the bottom although only a point off second.