Opinion

Five things Socceroos should do in rescheduled World Cup qualification campaign

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Asia’s 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers that were due to take place in June and November are set to be pushed back to October and November. There are just a few details to be sorted before it becomes official.

In the meantime, there are five things that Australia should think about doing.

Focus on A-League players 

We are entering uncharted waters. With the coronavirus still spreading, the qualifiers are going to be put back by over six months. Just a few weeks ago that would have been unthinkable.

This means that the second round will be finished at the end of this year and all the third round games - and possibly playoffs - will be held in 2021.

Assuming the present situation calms down, nobody knows what the international calendar will look like next year but one thing is for sure, the international games are going to come thick and fast.

Nobody knows what is going to happen with overseas clubs releasing players but there are going to be complications and compromises.

It all means that Graham Arnold should be building as strong an A-League pool as possible in the coming months. It may well be that he will have to rely on domestic-based talent more than usual.

Think about tinkering with the A-League season

Australia may have a couple of advantages as the road to Qatar gets seriously chaotic next year.

For fans, the interminable A-League off-season has been the subject of complaints and the cause of boredom for years but this time it provides some flexibility. 

Starting the 2020-21 campaign a little earlier than usual will not only go down well with supporters but will also give the national team some much-needed breathing space next year when the going really gets tough.

Even just a couple of weeks could make a difference at some point during qualification - Asian rivals may not have the same luxury.

Use the remaining four games well

Another factor in Arnold’s favour is that the second round has gone perfectly so far.

The Socceroos are two points clear of Jordan and Kuwait at the top of Group B and have a game in hand.

Pressure is always there when it comes to World Cup qualification but this stage has been as smooth as it gets.

Three of the four remaining games are at home with the other in Nepal. While only top spot guarantees a place in the third round of qualification, given that Australia have won four out of four so far, even ending up as second would very likely be enough to secure one of the best four runners-up spots. 

It is not done and dusted but much of the hard work has been done which gives the coach some leeway to try something new.

Look to Oceania

Most Asian national teams are going to struggle to arrange even meaningful friendlies for the next few months as travel around the giant continent becomes increasingly limited. 

The likes of China are already safely ensconced in training camps. Meaningful games may be hard to come by but at least they can train together and stay as sharp as possible.

But having Oceania on the doorstep is a bonus. A few trips to the old neighbourhood - governments permitting - for training camps and then some friendly games against some old sparring partners could give the Socceroos an edge when the action really heats up.

The fact that former confederation colleagues would love to get one over on Australia and that friendlies would not be too friendly can only be a good thing.

Stay positive

The new FFA administration has impressed the AFC with its desire to engage and participate in the continent’s affairs.

That was strengthened last month by the quick and efficient staging of the women’s Olympic qualifiers at short notice.

The situation is in flux for all of Asia and there are going to be some tough decisions and tricky situations to come in the months ahead.

The Socceroos travelled more than any other team on the road to Russia but the challenges are going to be even tougher.

It will be the same for everyone and a positive mindset will be needed all the way to Qatar.