SYDNEY (AFP) – Under-strength Australia need courage and fight to beat Japan and keep their hopes of automatically qualifying for the Qatar World Cup alive, assistant coach Rene Meulensteen said yesterday.
The Socceroos face a must-win clash in Sydney today (5.10pm Brunei time) but the odds are stacked against them after a disastrous build-up.
Coach Graham Arnold tested positive for COVID-19 and was then slapped with a heavy fine for breaching his self-isolation. He will be back on the sidelines as long as he returns a negative test before kick-off, but his squad is missing a string of players due to coronavirus impacts or injury, including influential duo Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic.
Former Manchester United assistant Meulensteen admitted he had never experienced such disrupted preparation, but said Australia would handle it.
“Obviously unfortunate that Aaron and Tommy are not part of the squad but we have enough depth and I know the players will step up to the plate,” he said.
“Two good qualities of the Socceroos is the ability to fight but also play a really good game.
“We need to make sure we get the plan tactically right, have good focus and great concentration.
“But more than anything I think courage will win us the game – the courage of the players to do the right thing, to show their talents, which will cause a lot of problems for the Japan team.”
There is plenty at stake. Saudi Arabia sit top on 19 points in Asian qualifying group B, one clear of Japan and four ahead of Australia with two games each remaining.
A win today for four-time Asian champions Japan would book their place at a seventh straight World Cup, while victory for Australia would move them level on points heading into a final group match on March 29.