UAE striker Ali Mabkhout could upset Socceroos’ World Cup plans

Legendary pair Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are the only two current players to have scored more goals for their nation than UAE striker Ali Mabkhout.

He is the goalscoring machine and familiar foe who looms as the biggest threat to the Socceroos’ hopes of surviving their do-or-die World Cup playoff against the United Arab Emirates.

Ali Mabkhout has not only scored more international goals than the entire Australian squad combined, his total of 80 from 104 appearances is bettered only by two current players – Cristiano Ronaldo (117) and Lionel Messi (86).

The 31-year-old marksman has also scored the fastest goal in Asian Cup history, finding the back of the net after just 14 seconds against Bahrain in the 2015 edition of the tournament in Australia.

The Socceroos beat the UAE 2-0 in the semi-finals on their way to winning the tournament, however, the Emirati gained revenge four years later by ending Australia’s title defence with a 1-0 quarter-final win – courtesy of a Mabkhout goal – in Abu Dhabi.

The teams’ latest meeting comes after they finished third in their respective groups in the third round of Asian Football Confederation World Cup qualifiers

For the losers of Wednesday morning’s playoff in Doha, their hopes of playing in this year’s World Cup are over.

The winners will advance to the following week’s intercontinental playoff against a South American nation, with the prize from that sudden-death affair being a place at the World Cup in Qatar (November 21 to December 18).

“I think the two teams are evenly matched, based on close matches in recent years and the fact that we both finished third in our respective groups,” Mabkhout told the website.

“Therefore, we’ll have to focus and avoid any mistakes. Being just 180 minutes away from a World Cup is an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often.

“Our fate is in our own hands, so we’re not relying on other results to go our way.

“Our immediate focus is on the upcoming Australia match, and we’ll give it our all.

“Hopefully, luck will be on our side. We’re all hoping to represent the Emirates in a tournament as prestigious as the World Cup.”

Should the UAE prevail in the playoffs, they will contest a World Cup finals tournament for just the second time and for the first time since 1990 – a similar 32-year gap to the one the Socceroos had to endure between their first two World Cup tournament appearances.

The Australians are now aiming to qualify for a fifth successive time.

Socceroos midfielder Riley McGree said his squad’s “togetherness” would prove vital on Wednesday morning.

“We’ve got a great group with a great core,” the midfielder told the Socceroos’ website.

“We’re all very close together and have been supporting each other along the way. We will definitely need that in the game against UAE.”

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