- *Australia and Syria meet on Tuesday in Asia’s final qualifier for Russia 2018 *
- The two played out a 1-1 scoreline in Thursday's first leg
- Asian champions Australia boast a strong record at home
It will be the twentieth match of an exhausting two-year 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ campaign for both Australia and Syria when they walk out onto the pitch at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday. For one side, however, the dream of an appearance on the world’s greatest football stage next year will be over by the end of the night.
As continental champions, and boasting a strong record at home, Australia will start as favourites. However, Syria proved in Thursday’s 1-1 draw in Malaysia that they have enough firepower in attack to worry any opponent. Awaiting the victor in next month’s intercontinental play-off will be the fourth-placed CONCACAF side, a position currently held narrowly by Panama.
*The match *
The tie remains well poised thanks to Syria’s eleventh-hour equaliser in Malaysia, even if Australia has an away goal in their back pocket. If Syria can rediscover their attacking form from the first leg, they will be confident to at least even the away-goal ledger. It will, however, be a very different contest to last week’s with a well-manicured pitch and cool conditions set to contrast with Malaysia’s cloying humidity.
The venue is known as the scene of arguably the Socceroos’ most famous moment – the 2005 shoot-out victory over Uruguay which ended the nation’s 32-year World Cup absence. A 1-1 scoreline on Tuesday will mean extra time and the possibility of a similarly dramatic finale to that from three World Cup campaigns ago. Australia are expected to line-up with several changes to their side, while Syria coach Ayman Al Hakim might be tempted to start talismanic veteran No10 Firas Al Khatib given the do-or-die nature of the contest.
Among a host of physically powerful attacking players, perhaps the most important for Syria is Omar Al Somah who coolly netted the equalising penalty on Thursday. Boasting a stunning goalscoring record with Saudi Arabia side Al Ahli, Al Somah made a welcome return to the national team in August following a five-year absence.
The stat 1 – Australia have lost just once on home soil in World Cup qualifiers since 1981. Their only defeat in the past 59 matches was a 1-0 loss in Sydney against China PR in 2008, when the already-qualified Socceroos lined up with a side featuring numerous U-23 players preparing for that year’s Beijing Olympic Games.