Socceroos set to go again in Saudi Arabia
Photo Source: AAP
A heaving crowd, steamy conditions and a determined opponent await the Socceroos in Saudi Arabia but coach Ange Postecoglou is more confident than ever his methods will deliver another positive result.
Australia take their next step on the road to Russia 2018 in Thursday night's clash (Friday morning AEDT) at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, an almost brand-new, high-tech stadium that will be packed to its 62,241 capacity.
Temperatures will hover in the low 30s come kickoff but neither the weather nor the abuse from the stands will deter anyone in the team.
Only last month, the Socceroos accounted for the United Arab Emirates in front of a big crowd and in similarly oppressive Dubai heat, and by not compromising Postecoglou's high-intensity attacking game, they registered one of Australia's best recent wins.
Coached by Dutchman Bert van Marwijk, Saudi Arabia are one of only three remaining unbeaten Asian teams in World Cup qualification but their results don't tell the full story.
Despite victories over Iraq and Thailand in Group B, the only goals they've scored have come from the penalty spot, and performances have been patchy.
But no matter the opposition or the conditions, these days, the Socceroos don't change anything for anyone.
"The growth of the team has been such that we're embracing the whole challenge now of trying to play our football in difficult circumstances, especially away from home," Postecoglou said.
"The guys believe in it now - not that they never had, but they're executing a lot better.
"We've still got areas to improve but, playing away from home in front of a hostile crowd in tough climatic conditions, doesn't mean we have to adjust our game and that's the biggest progress we've made."
Postecoglou says he is yet to settle on a structure but has a wealth of options at his disposal.
The Socceroos played two different formations in the Iraq and UAE victories - an attacking 4-3-3 with wingers and a centre forward, and an alternative two-striker system that also allowed star trio Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic and Massimo Luongo to share the park together.
Postecoglou has decisions to make around where to deploy the versatile Mark Milligan, who knows Middle Eastern opposition better than anyone in the squad, as well as Tim Cahill, who came off the bench to score the winner in Dubai but is pushing for a start.
There is also next week's meeting with great rivals Japan in Melbourne to consider.
New faces Jimmy Jeggo and Craig Goodwin, picked for their strong club form in Europe, are in contention for substitute roles after slotting into Camp Socceroo seamlessly.
"Everyone's a chance - that's why they're here," Postecoglou said.
Possible Socceroos line-up (4-3-3): Mathew Ryan; Ryan McGowan, Mark Milligan, Matthew Spiranovic, Brad Smith; Mile Jedinak (capt), Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic; Massimo Luongo, Tomi Juric, Robbie Kruse.