TOKYO (Reuters) - A dejected Australia have just one objective in mind against Thailand in their crucial Asian World Cup qualifier on Tuesday — to win and score a lot of goals while doing it.
The Asian champions were beaten 2-0 by Japan in Saitama on Thursday, a result that sent the Samurai Blue through to the next year’s World Cup finals in Russia and took the Socceroos’ qualification out of their hands.
Ange Postecoglou’s side are level with Saudi Arabia on 16 points in Group B but two in arrears on goal difference and need a handsome win over Thailand in their final qualifier on Tuesday and for Japan to beat or hold the Saudis to a draw.
“We can’t just put in a good performance, we need to get a strong result as well,” Socceroos midfielder Mark Milligan said on Friday. “We know that we can’t fall short again.”
The top-two sides qualify automatically for the finals, with the third-placed side entering a playoff against the third-placed team from Group A.
That winner then plays an inter-continental playoff against a team from Central and North America.
The loss to Japan was Australia’s first in a World Cup qualifier and also just their first loss in the final round of qualifying.
Milligan said it could not have come at a worse time in the knife-edge qualification race.
“Sometimes these things happen,” he said.
“The timing of it isn’t great (but) we have been in positions like this before when we have a result that doesn’t meet our standards, we bounce back strongly.
“We have more than enough quality in this group to bounce back.”
While the loss had taken qualification out of their own hands, the real damage to the Socceroos was during the middle section of qualifying when they had four successive draws, including a 2-2 result against Thailand in Bangkok last November when Mile Jedinak converted two penalties.
The team were still hurting from the loss to Japan, Milligan added and they also had precious little time to regain their composure as they travel back to Melbourne for Tuesday’s decider but they would enter it with a clear focus.
“It hurts. It was a big opportunity for us and we fell short,” he said. “We set high standards for ourselves and looking at the performance ... there were a few places where we weren’t at our best.
“You can often look at a match and say what went wrong but what was at stake has made it tough to put my finger on it.
“We have a massive match in a couple of days time of great importance (and) ... we need to go into Tuesday with clear minds and make sure that we get the job done.”
Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty