Socceroos must decide their own destiny in must-win World Cup qualifier

There was a moment, about eight months ago, where it felt like the Socceroos had turned a corner.

After a COVID-enforced period of stasis, in which they didn’t play a match for 567 days, Australia’s men’s national team resumed World Cup qualifying last June with a burst of four matches in two weeks.

They strolled through all of them, sweeping aside Kuwait, Taiwan, Nepal, and Jordan, scoring twelve goals while conceding just twice. Three more wins followed that short sprint a few months later, this time against China, Vietnam, and Oman. Seven goals scored, two conceded.

The Socceroos have won 11 straight World Cup qualification games.(Getty Images: Mohamed Farag)

This hot streak saw them conclude their second round of Asian qualifying undefeated, setting a FIFA record for the highest number of consecutive wins (11) for any nation anywhere on their path to a men’s World Cup.

After several years of slowly-fading hopes, it finally felt like this rag-tag bunch of players – some of whom had never set foot in the country whose green-and-gold jersey they now wore — had, somehow, returned to the path first paved by the “golden generation” they grew up watching. It felt like something inevitable, something pre-destined.

Or it did for a few days, at least.

Less than a week after that 3-1 win over Oman, Australia flew to Saitama to take on Asian powerhouses Japan. An own goal to Australian defender Aziz Behich in the 86th minute saw the result tilt in Japan’s favour, with the 2-1 loss snapping the Socceroos’ winning streak and, with it, something a little deeper and less tangible in the team, too.

What followed was a tumbling of results: one win, three draws, and two losses as Australia scraped into third spot in their group. The final two games were perhaps the most disheartening yet: a wheezing 2-0 loss to Japan at home, which ended Australia’s automatic qualification hopes, followed by a 1-0 loss to group winners Saudi Arabia in late March.

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