Socceroos will be unstoppable, insist World Cup rivals

The Socceroos during a match. Source: Getty Images

Australia will be untouchable on the first leg of the long trek to Qatar 2022, according to the officials representing the three lowest ranked teams in their preliminary FIFA World Cup group.

While old foes Jordan will seek to toss a spanner in the works, FA chiefs from Kuwait, Nepal and Chinese Taipei - the Socceroos’ other Group B opponents - all believe Graham Arnold’s men will top the section at a canter.

Awe and reverence were the abiding sentiments after the draw - conducted by FIFA legend and Socceroos great Tim Cahill - had bracketed the trio of underdogs with the Socceroos.

Neither Jordan nor Australia saw fit to send senior representation to Kuala Lumpur, but officials from Kuwait (ranked 156) Nepal (165) and Chinese Taipei (125) all agreed that Australia - and most likely Jordan - would be difficult to rein in.

Nepal’s Indra Man Tuladhar characterized the looming meeting with Australia - the first game will be on Australian soil on October 10 - as “a huge learning experience”.

He knows defeating the Socceroos is akin to scaling the notorious East Face of Everest in a white-out, but sees only upside in tackling the green and gold.

“This is a great draw for us - we’ve never played Australia before and we can learn a lot from them and how they play,” Tuladhar told The World Game.

“They will of course dominate the group but we can grow a lot as a nation by facing them.

“We have so many fans in Australia from the Nepalese community and we’ll have big support when we come there. That’s important for us.

“Football is the number one sport in our country and we’re rebuilding our main stadium (in Kathmandu) and putting better infrastructure in place.

“There’s a lot of investment going into the game. Facing Australia is an opportunity for us to show that we’re developing. Our players are mainly based in India, the Maldives and Indonesia.”

The Gorkhalis are familiar with both Kuwait and Jordan, and a recent friendly series against the former saw them draw one game and lose the other 1-0.

The Himalayan nation faced Jordan during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers - suffering a 9-0 nightmare away before restoring pride with a 1-1 draw at home. They also drew 1-1 in Chinese Taipei in a recent friendly.

With a head-to-head record of five wins each and a draw, Kuwait might expect to offer credible opposition to Australia, whom they face first up on home territory on September 10.

But Kuwaiti official Hamed Alotaibii wasn’t feeling overly bullish.

“Australia have scored eight goals against us the last two times (a 4-1 Asian Cup loss in 2015 and a 4-0 friendly defeat in Arnold’s first match 11 months back) and we know how strong they are,” he said.

“They didn’t do so well in defending the Asian Cup but the coach (Arnold) has a very good, fast young team which is bringing in fresh new players and we think they are going to rise up again very quickly.

“For us, this cant be easy. Australia will finish on top of the group and we will try and fight it out with Jordan for the second position.

“That, for us, is what we’ll be aiming for (to be one of the four best placed runners up who will also progress to the final phase of qualifying for Qatar).”

Kuwait’s development has been dogged by the country’s disputes with FIFA over governance issues, with the team banned from international competition from October 2015 to December 2017.

Liang Chen, of the CTFA, said the island nation - whose only previous encounter with the Socceroos at the EAFF East Asian Cup ended in an 8-0 battering - were looking to mix skill with a more robust approach under English coach Louis Lancaster.

“For us, it’s a decent draw and our players won’t be overawed by Australia,” he said.

“They mostly play in the Chinese Super League or Hong Kong and hopefully that will be reflected in how we perform.

“Of course, you’d expect Australia to be dominant in the group but if we pick up some valuable knowledge along the way, so much the better.”

Chinese Taipei reached the final round of qualifying for January’s Asian Cup, only to fall short.

Socceroos coach Arnold said that it was a “good draw”, adding: “We’ve created a lot of depth and I’ve got a tough job in September to pick 23 players out of probably a pool of 40.

“By the time September comes I will have been in the job 12 months. I know the players well - I know their attitudes, characters and what they’ll bring and I’m expecting an exciting time ahead of us.”

The trickiest opponent in the group will be Jordan, who have beaten Australia all three times they’ve met in the Middle East - most recently a 1-0 loss under Arnold at the Asian Cup.

“Our record is not fantastic over there,” he said. “But at the Asian Cup we won four games out of six (including the warm-up against Oman) and the players are more familiar now with the Middle East.

“It’s about the players working hard in club land, making sure they’re fit and ready, and I expect a great campaign ahead of us.”