Expectations for the Socceroos to qualify for the Qatar 2022 World Cup were low heading into the first play-off against the UAE.
But after a thrilling 2-1 win versus the Middle East country, Australia is only one win away from qualifying for their fifth consecutive World Cup – with a one-off match against South American nation Peru on Tuesday June 14 (AEST) looming as the final hurdle.
The green and gold were slightly the better team throughout the 90 minutes, but are going to have to improve significantly to beat Peru, who they lost 2-0 against at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
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The absence of Tom Rogic for the World Cup play-offs looked to be a huge blow for the Socceroos’ chances, however ironically it was attacking midfielders Jackson Irvine and Ajdin Hrustic who stepped up with crucial goals to seal Australia’s passage to the sudden day play-off.
HRUSTIC ON THE VOLLEY!!!
— 10 Football (@10FootballAU) June 7, 2022
It could have been a more comfortable result for Australia if Craig Goodwin had of volleyed in from almost point-blank range in the second half or if there wasn’t a defensive lapse four minutes after Irvine scored the opener to allow UAE an equaliser.
Aside from second-cap right back Nathaniel Atkinson being regularly exposed by UAE winger Harib Abdalla Suhail, the Socceroos defended solidly and looked relatively untroubled against a rather toothless opposition, with star Emrati striker Ali Mabkhout failing to have much influence on the match.
Peru represent a different threat with the accomplished South American nation falling just short of automatic World Cup qualification in their region, but finishing above the likes of Colombia, Chile and Paraguay.
The Peruvians have only had one warm-up match for the cut-throat playoff, unimpressively defeating Australia’s neighbours New Zealand 1-0 in Barcelona, despite having the majority of possession and chances.
While Peru has transitioned away from 100-plus cap striking legends in Paolo Guerrero and Jefferson Farfan, the rest of their line-up contains a significant experience advantage over the Socceroos.
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With Australia deploying second gamers Kye Rowles and Atkinson in defence because of injuries and a dearth of options, Peru can select their defenders from nine options, with all having at least 20 caps, and all but one 26 years of age or older.
The likes of Luis Advincula and Carlos Zambrano play their club football for Argentine giants Boca Juniors, while Alexander Callens, Luis Abram and Marcos Lopez are in the top divisions of the United States and Mexico.
Peru’s experience in midfield is also notable with Yoshimar Yutun capped 118 times his nation, while seven others have 28 caps or more, including Celta Vigo’s Renato Tapia and DC United’s Edison Flores.
Attack looks to be the Peruvian weak point, with Guerrero and Farfan’s absence exposing a strike force of three who has only scored nine national team goals between them, with Benevento’s Gianluca Lapadula likely to lead the line with seven strikes in 21 caps.
Australia will need to be at their best to play through an experienced Peru midfield and defence, with the current Socceroos team often struggling to create chances against solid opposition.
IRVINE OPENS THE SCORING!!!!!!
— 10 Football (@10FootballAU) June 7, 2022
Martin Boyle and Hrustic loom as Australia’s most important players, with both able to create an opening with skilful dribbling or passing.
Aaron Mooy will be better for the runout after barely playing any football in the previous months, but the green and gold will be looking for a better performance from Mathew Leckie, who struggled to have an impact against the UAE.
With the Socceroos having played plenty of football in the Middle East due to COVID, they will have the slight ‘home’ advantage against Peru, but that likely won’t count for too much in a cut-throat match.
Anything can happen in a sudden death play-off but for Australia to reach World Cup 2022, it’s going to have to be a monumental performance where the team takes their chances and manage to stifle Peru’s experience.