World Cup qualifying preview: Iraq v Australia

With not even goal difference separating the two out-of-form nations in the Group B standings, neither can afford to lose the match in Doha Indonesia   By PADDY HIGGS


Samal Saeed, Ibrahim, Shakir, Kadhim
Khalid, Rehema, Munir, Yasin
Akram, Mahmood

Wilkshire, Spiranovic, Neill, McKay
Kruse, Bresciano, Valeri, Holman
Cahill, Brosque

For the winner goes the spoils of points, confidence and the knowledge that their 2014 World Cup campaign is back on track.

For the loser, the chance of not even claiming third place in the Group B of the fourth round of qualifying beckons.

A look at the table in Group B reveals Iraq and Australia simply cannot be split, from points to goal difference.

With Japan already racing ahead at the top of the group and second-placed Jordan - two points ahead of Australia - facing bottom-placed Oman, Iraq's hosting of the Socceroos in Doha on Tuesday [Wednesday AEST] could be the breaking point for either nation.

Australia coach Holger Osieck put his faith in his experienced players to guide his side through the fourth round and into automatic qualification for Brazil, but it has appeared misplaced in several.

He is without the injured Sasa Ognenovski and clubless David Carney, though the duo have worn criticism for their performances across a run of six games with just one win for the Socceroos.

The absence of Carney and the promising Jason Davidson - the latter through injury - means Australia go into the match without a recognised left full-back.  Versatile left-sided midfielder Matt McKay is likely to step into the break.

There will also be a change in central defence, with Matthew Spiranovic favourite to replace Ognenovski.

Carl Valeri or Mile Jedinak are likely to fill McKay's regular spot in central midfield, though Osieck could be tempted to give FC Utrecht man Adam Sarota - offering more pace and movement - a chance.

There is also speculation Bresciano may be relegated to among the substitutes bench to allow for a partnership of Valeri and Jedinak, as Osieck looks to plug the holes that were evident against Jordan.

Robbie Kruse will hope to continue his fine form for the Socceroos in a wide midfield role.  The former Melbourne Victory forward has been a ray of light during his nation's poor run of form, and is high on confidence after making a first XI position his own with club side Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Bundesliga.

Iraq coach Zico appears to be coming under increased pressure at the helm, having claimed in a public war of words with the his employers he had not been paid in several months.

The Iraq Football Association responded by released copies of bank transfer statements, and the relationship could get rockier if Iraq fail to claim their first three points of the fourth round against Australia.

What approach the former Brazil international will take into the match is yet another intriguing side story to the match.

Like Osieck, Zico has been criticised in some quarters for relying too long on his veterans, such as Nashat Akram, captain Younis Mahmood and Quasay Munir.

He gave youth a chance in September's qualifier against Japan and earned praise in a brave 1-0 loss in Saitama, but then returned to his trusted hands in Thursday's 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Brazil.

Left-back Basem Abbas will miss through injury, while midfielder Karrar Yassim has been dropped due to disciplinary reasons.

Husam Kadhim is likely to be Abbas' replacement.

Otherwise, however, Zico may elect to stick to his veterans even despite the heavy loss, given Mahmood and Co. know Australia and their threats well.
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