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Socceroos prepare to enter the Lions' Den

Australia will play Iraq on Thursday evening in the first of the World Cup Qualifiers

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Tim Cahill Photo: Sportsbet

17 March 2017

The Socceroos face the Lions of Mesopotamia, Iraq, on neutral soil this Thursday evening for the first of a crucial pair of World Cup Qualifiers.

Sitting in third place, one point behind rivals Saudi Arabia and Japan in the top two automatic qualifying places, the Socceroos will be determined to break their string of three draws by taming their opponents.

The Lions can expect minimum home support on the neutral PAS Stadium in the Iranian capital Tehran, with its last match there against Thailand drawing little over 2000 supporters. However, that didn't seem to hinder the team's onfield performance as it dished out a 4-0 defeat to Thailand, Iraq's only success of the campaign so far.

The undefeated Socceroos deserve favouritism status going into this match based on their relative standings, with the Iraqis having lost four of their first five qualifying matches.

Postecoglou's team will be without injured midfielder Tom Rogic whose goalscoring ability from the middle of the park, will be missed, The Socceroos are likely to start with Matt Leckie, Tomi Juric, and Robbie Kruse up front, with Cahill and James Troisi as attacking options off the bench.

In defence, Sainsbury and Milligan are the likely central defensive pairing with Matt Ryan in goal. The in-form skipper Mile Jedinak will be expected to anchor the midfield with Mooys and Luongo playing ahead of Jedinak. Sydney FC's Rhyan Grant comes into contention for the right back position.

Australia has some fitness concerns over defenders Sainsbury and left back Brad Smith who have both struggled to get game time at their new clubs Inter
Milan and Bournemouth respectively.

These nations previously met in September in Perth, when Australia triumphed 2-0 by controlling possession, in a match during which the visitors were prepared to sit back and try to frustrate Australia. Eventually, the Socceroos wore them down.

The Lions coach Radhi Shenaishil may opt for a more proactive approach in Tehran, and try and gain a greater share of possession, while pushing players forward, which could also benefit Australia, which has the speed to hurt sides on the counterattack.

The seven players who missed Postecoglou's cut to the squad from 30 to 23 players earlier this week, included Alex Gersbach and Chris ikonomidis. They join Panos Armenakas and Con Ouzounidis along with 18 other players in a Socceroos Development squad, which meets in Spain next week for a training camp under Olyroos coach Josep Gombau. In Spain, they will play underage international friendly matches against Austria and Finland.

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