Soccer-Arnold looks to fans to boost Australia against Saudi Arabia
By Michael Church
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Graham Arnold is putting faith in the power of the fans as his Australia side play on home soil for the first time in more than two years in a clash against Saudi Arabia on Thursday that could prove pivotal for both nations' World Cup qualification hopes.
Herve Renard's Saudi side, perfect so far in their opening four games, would open up a six-point gap at the top of Group B with a win at Western Sydney Stadium as Asia's qualifiers hit the halfway mark.
The Socceroos have played their last 10 preliminaries overseas, with eight of those held outside of Australia due to the country's stringent pandemic quarantine restrictions.
Their long-awaited return sees them take on a Saudi side that has already defeated Japan, Oman, China and Vietnam.
"The Saudis are coming off a good run but they've had the luxury, if I can say that, of playing seven out of their eight games at home and in the Middle East, and we've played 11 out of 12 away from home," Arnold said.
"Our home crowd will bring a lot of energy onto the field, and I know that it might be small tactically, but the energy that the crowd will bring to our players will be a huge addition."
The Socceroos currently sit on their own in second place in Group B, three points behind the Saudis on nine points with Oman and Japan three points adrift.
While the top two face off in Sydney, Japan take on bottom side Vietnam in Hanoi and Oman meet a struggling China in neutral Sharjah.
A fifth win for Renard's team coupled with victories for the Japanese and Oman would see Saudi Arabia break clear and leave a three-way battle to take shape for the second qualifying berth.
Success for the home side, however, would pull the Saudis back towards the chasing pack and set up an intriguing second half of the campaign.
The top two nations in each of Asia's two qualifying groups advance automatically to the World Cup finals in Qatar next year while the third placed sides will progress into a playoff round.
Victory for Group A leaders Iran over Lebanon in Sidon would move Dragan Skocic's team closer to the finals, although the coach's decision not to select influential Porto striker Mehdi Taremi will give their hosts hope of avoiding defeat.
The Iranians, currently on 10 points from four games, lead Paulo Bento-managed South Korea by two points ahead of their meeting the United Arab Emirates, who have picked up three points from their opening quartet of matches.
Syria, meanwhile, take on Dick Advocaat's Iraq in Doha hoping to kickstart their faltering campaign with their first win.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by XXXXX)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021. Click For Restrictions -