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Australia v Saudi Arabia - A Love Story

Saudi Arabia is a country that is all too often in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Sure, the recent spectacle of President Trump fondling an orb and predicting the next episode of fake news was cool.  After all, it provided a brief respite from the barrage of alleged human rights abuses, censoring of free speech and indiscriminate incarceration that we’ve come to know and love from our Saudi cousins. But Saudi Arabia poses a far more immediate threat to Australia – direct qualification for the World Cup in Russia 2018.  This is why on 8 June 2017, all Australians should check their political sensibilities at the door and either get out to the Adelaide Oval or get down to the pub to support the Socceroos.

The equation for the Socceroos is pretty simple. Win by 3 clear goals and move to second in Group B and pretty much guarantee direct qualification. Or draw/lose, remain in third place and face a play off for qualification. Not just one play off. Possibly two. The first would be against the third placed Asian team in Group A. Win that and then face another play off. Not against an Asian team but the 4th placed team from CONCACAF. At the moment that’s the USA. Let’s hope their keeper has tiny hands. We know their captain does.  

Given all the domestic football that’s on, you might have forgotten that the Socceroos are in the midst of their World Cup qualifying campaign. To be fair, the campaign has been going on since June 2015. That’s not a typo – June 2015. Think back to what you were doing then. Ok stop. Now clean up after yourself. June 2015 is almost a year to the day when the NSW Blues comprehensively demonstrated that victory in 2014’s State of Origin was basically a fluke. Almost six months before the Wallabies would reach the pinnacle in world rugby by being the best team in the world after the All Blacks. Hell, in June 2015 people still genuinely believed signing Lance “Buddy” Franklin on a 10 year contract was a bloody good idea.   

We all know how the match against the Saudis is going to go. It will be a cagey affair with Australia not wanting to commit too many players forward for fear of conceding a goal on the break. The Saudis will remain ‘compact’ in defence which is a polite way of saying they will ‘park the bus, ute and any other armoured vehicle that happens to be around’. Australia will look to Aaron Mooy, he of Huddersfield – and now playing with the big boys in the English Premier League – to inspire. We will look to Tom Rogic to conclusively prove that he does the best Mark Viduka impersonation of his generation i.e. is a gun at club level but goes beyond AWOL in big internationals. Regardless, if it’s 0-0 with ten minutes to play, expect to see lots of footage of Ange Postecoglu lurking in the technical area threatening to go the full Calombaris – no, not underpay his staff but abuse anyone in earshot.

Most importantly, this qualifier will provide cannon fodder for all the soccer ‘haters’ out there as the Saudis look to slow the match down, fake injury and fake concern for fellow human beings. That is not fake news. President Trump would be proud. That’s reason enough to get out there and wear your green and gold. We’re calling it 2-0. To Australia.

This article was first published here