Australia did not exactly cruise through Asian qualifying for this World Cup, finishing third in their group behind the two automatic qualifiers Saudi Arabia and Japan, and only just edging out fourth-placed Oman to reach a play-off. There, they narrowly saw off the United Arab Emirates to book a spot in the inter-continental play-offs with Peru, and that match would become famous for goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne’s dancing on the goalline as he made the crucial penalty shootout save to send the Socceroos to their fifth successive World Cup.
They did it by playing 80 percent of their qualifying games away from home. Tough border laws meant Australia didn’t host any international games for more than two years, so 16 of their 20 qualifiers were on the road in an extra-long campaign that started in September 2019. The Aussies are already comfortable with the conditions in Qatar. , where they were unbeaten in four qualifiers for 2022 and where they’ve won 10, drawn three and lost two games since 2008.
The Socceroos will open Group D against defending World Cup champion France in a familiar situation: Australia lost to France 2-1 in their opening group game four years ago in Russia. The Australians then play Tunisia before taking on Denmark — another group rival in 2018. They have not won a World Cup game since 2010, however, and realistically will need to beat Tunisia in match two if they are to give themselves a shot at reaching the knockout rounds.
Head coach Graham Arnold boasts the best win percentage (75%) of any permanent Australian manager and he has some talent to call upon, most notably the midfield threat of Hellas Verona’s Ajdin Hrustic, as well as captain Mat Ryan, the former Brighton and Arsenal. goalkeeper who will take up the gloves in Qatar. But Arnold will need to pull off something special to keep up that impressive record, and getting out of the group will count as a successful World Cup – anything more will be a welcome bonus.
Here is everything you need to know:
Group fixtures (all times GMT)
Tuesday 22 November: France vs Australia – 19:00
Saturday 26 November: Tunisia vs Australia – 10:00
Wednesday 30 November: Australia vs Denmark – 15:00
Goalkeepers: Matt Ryan (FC Copenhagen), Danny Vukovic (Central Coast Mariners), Andrew Redmayne (Sydney FC)
Defenders: Harry Souttar (Stoke City), Milos Degenek (Columbus Crew), Bailey Wright (Sunderland), Thomas Deng (Albirex Niigata), Fran Karacic (Brescia), Nathaniel Atkinson (Heart of Midlothian), Aziz Behich (Dundee United), Kye Rowles (Heart of Midlothian), Joel King (Odense Boldklub)
Midfielders: Aaron Mooy (Celtic), Jackson Irvine (FC St. Pauli), Ajdin Hrustic (Hellas Verona), Cameron Devlin (Heart of Midlothian), Riley McGree (Middlesbrough), Keanu Baccus (St Mirren)
Forwards: Jamie Maclaren (Melbourne City), Mitchell Duke (Fagiano Okayama), Jason Cummings (Central Coast Mariners), Garang Kuol (Central Coast Mariners), Awer Mabil (Cadiz), Mathew Leckie (Melbourne City), Craig Goodwin (Adelaide United), Martin Boyle (Hibernian)
Ones to watch
Star – Ajdin Hrustic: Hrustic is a composed midfielder with an accurate set-piece delivery, something which could be crucial if Australia are to make inroads in this tournament. He has a cool head, scoring in the penalty shootout win over Peru to reach this World Cup soon after doing the same thing for Frankfurt as they beat Rangers in May’s Europa League final. Now plying his trade at Italian club Hellas Verona, the 26-year-old will be integral to this Socceroos side.
Breakout talent – Nathaniel Atkinson: The Hearts defender, 23, has only recently broken into the international side but the right-back berth appears to be his to lose.
Getting out of the group would be a great achievement. Tunisia offers Australia a realistic chance of picking up three points, but overcoming France or Denmark will be a tough task. Pinching a draw from their opening game against a French side who have lacked cohesion in recent times could give the Socceroos a route out of Group D, but it would be a surprise. Knocked out in the group stage.