Tue, Mar 21, 12:08pm by Senior Writer
Date and Time: Thursday March 23, 11pm AEDT
Venue: Tehran, Iran (Shahid Dastgerdi Stadium)
TV: Fox Sports
Australia’s quest to qualify for the 2018 World Cup is at the crossroads, having slipped to third in the Group B after a 2-2 draw to Thailand in November. However, they remain unbeaten in qualifying so far, and haven’t lost a World Cup qualifier in nine matches since a 2-0 defeat to Jordan in October 2015.
They travel to Iran for this match to face and Iraq side who have had just one win in five matches and face a massive task to get back into contention for qualification.
These two teams have shared a strong rivalry over the past decade, sparked by Iraq’s shock win in the Socceroos’ opening 2007 Asian Cup match, a result which set up Iraq for a famous tournament victory. But Australia have won the past four clashes, including a thrilling extra-time quarter final win in the 2011 Asian Cup.
Most recently, Australia comfortably beat Iraq 2-0 in Perth last September thanks to goals from Tomi Juric and Massimo Luongo. Those two players for part of the Australian 23-man squad for this match and the home match against Saudi Arabia in Sydney on March 28.
Ange Postecoglou’s squad also includes six A-League players, and four uncapped players, including young Adelaide United midfielder Riley McGree.
In terms of the opening goalscorer for Australia, Tim Cahill is $5.50 favourite, with Nathan Burns at $7, Robbie Kruse at $8 and James Troisi at $8.50.
Alaa Abdul Zahra, who scored against Australia in 2012, but hasn’t scored in an international since, is $13 equal favourite to be first goalscorer along with Mohannad Abdul-Raheem, who scored four goals in the qualifying win over Thailand.
Saad Abdulameer, who slotted the spot kick which gave Iraq a 1-0 friendly win over Iran on Saturday, is $12 to score at any time, which may be worth considering if he’s the one who always takes penalties.
What’s also worth considering is Australia’s record in the Middle East in World Cup qualifers. They have won just one of their past six matches in that part of the woods, and haven’t played in Tehran since the first leg of the infamous 1997 World Cup qualifying tie against Iran.
What is on their side, is that this isn’t the same calibre of Iraqi side as they faced five or so years ago and that they won’t have a hostile home crowd to contend with.
The pressure is on Ange and his men, but we are backing them to get the job done.
Suggested Bet: Australia to win 1-0 at $6
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