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Socceroos heading to Sharjah to meet China



China’s inability to play World Cup qualifiers at home means it will ‘host’ the Socceroos in Sharjah later this month.

The Socceroos will return to the Middle East following their Sydney clash against Saudi Arabia, with confirmation their World Cup qualifier against China will be played in the United Arab Emirates.

The Australians will play on home soil for the first time since October 2019 when they host the Saudis – who top Group B in the third round of AFC World Cup qualifying – at CommBank Stadium on Thursday week.

However, while Covid-19 travel restrictions have been lifted to allow the Socceroos to again play at home, it’s a different case in China.

As a result, the Chinese national team must continue to play its home matches on foreign soil.

China will “host” the Socceroos in the early hours of the morning of Wednesday, November 17 (AEDT) at the 18,000-capacity Sharjah Stadium.

The Socceroos will have no qualms about playing the match in the UAE after winning a host of games in the Middle East in the past two years.

However, the timing of the match against China isn’t good for A-League champions Melbourne City, who start their title defence on Friday, November 19 at AAMI Park against Brisbane Roar.

City’s star attackers, Mat Leckie, Jamie Maclaren and Andrew Nabbout, are all expected to be named in Graham Arnold’s latest Socceroos squad, set to be announced on Friday.

Any City players chosen in the squad face a tight turnaround in their bid to play in the opening match of the A-League season.

City faced a similar situation in last season’s finals series, but managed to defy the absence of Maclaren, Curtis Good and Connor Metcalfe – who were on Socceroos duty in Kuwait – to win the title.

Socceroos coach Arnold arrived back in Australia on Monday after a stint of almost six months overseas.

Sydney FC defender Rhyan Grant and Melbourne Victory attacker Chris Ikonomidis – the only two A-League players in the Socceroos squad for last month’s World Cup qualifiers against Oman and Japan – are both out of quarantine and training with their clubs.

The Socceroos, whose 11-game winning streak was ended by Japan, are in second place in Group B, three points behind Saudi Arabia, who have a perfect record of 12 points from four matches.

China has just three points from four matches, with only Vietnam behind them on the Group B ladder.

The top two teams from Group A and Group B will automatically qualify for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.

Originally published as The Socceroos’ road to next year’s World Cup will take them to Sharjah to meet China




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Socceroos; Australia will play first home game in more than two years in November.



Qualifying for the 2022 World Cup has suddenly taken on a whole new look for the Socceroos after a big announcement.

The Socceroos are finally coming home after 763 days on the road and will play their next World Cup qualifier in Sydney.

A clash with Saudi Arabia is locked in at Western Sydney Stadium in Parramatta on Thursday, November 11, the first match at home for the Socceroos since taking on Nepal in Canberra in October 2019.

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold had urged NSW government officials to throw open the door to fans after a last-start loss to Japan ended an 11-match winning streak.

The stadium will be at 75 per cent capacity for the game, which means up to 22,500 people will be able to cheer on Arnold’s men.

“I believe that playing in front of home fans at a beautiful stadium and on a great pitch will help us,” Arnold said.

“Fans can provide energy to players and teams, and after having been away from Australia for so long, I expect that our players will harness and use the support that will be in Western Sydney Stadium on November 11.

“Now I urge the players, together with the fans, to enjoy the moment and feed off one another’s energy as together we strive to take another positive step towards qualification for Qatar.”

Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said it was a big moment for the Socceroos to come home.

“The Socceroos are an iconic Australian team and one that has always enjoyed a very close connection with the Australian public,” he said.

“Unfortunately, throughout the team’s pursuit of qualification for a fifth consecutive World Cup, they have had to play 11 of their 12 matches abroad.

“Despite the challenges which this has presented, the Socceroos have performed exceptionally well.

“We’re delighted that the team will have the opportunity to return to Australia to continue their World Cup quest in front of Australian fans.

“It will also be a chance for the Australian public to witness some exciting new national team talent, including players like Ajdin Hrustic, Martin Boyle, and Harry Souttar who have been making great contributions to the squad throughout 2021.”

“We thank the NSW government for working closely with us to bring the Socceroos home in line with their Reopening NSW road map.”

Australia will play its second match of November’s FIFA window against China on Tuesday, November 16. The details of this match are yet to be finalised.

Final home fixtures against Vietnam and Japan next January and March are also set to be played in Australia, with borders open and quarantine restrictions being eased.

COMING HOME

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ – AFC Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar (Final Round)

Matchday 5: Australia v Saudi Arabia

Date: Thursday, November 11, 2021

Venue: Western Sydney Stadium, Parramatta

Kick-off: 8:05pm AEDT

Originally published as Socceroos will play first game on home soil for more than two years against Saudi Arabia in Sydney




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Matildas host Brazil in two-game Sydney series



The Matildas have only won twice in 12 matches under Tony Gustavsson, but the Swedish mentor isn’t too concerned.

Tony Gustavsson has defended his ordinary record since taking charge of the Matildas, saying his only concern was to perform well in major tournaments.

Gustavsson coaches the Matildas for a 13th time on Saturday night when the Australians host Brazil at Sydney’s CommBank Stadium.

Under the Swede, the Matildas have won just twice in 12 games, and have conceded a whopping 30 goals.

But Gustavsson pointed to his team’s fourth-placed finish at this year’s Tokyo Olympics as evidence that when it mattered, the Matildas performed.

His next target is success at next year’s Asian Cup, which starts in January in India, with the long-term goal being a triumphant 2023 World Cup on home soil.

“Yes, we want to win every game we play, but I’m not going to change my mindset in terms of putting this team through these preparations that I think (are) very important to then win something (at the) Asian Cup,” Gustavsson said.

“And if we don’t perform there, I’m the first one to take that hit. I’ll be OK with that.”

Gustavsson was also happy to take a “hit” for the Matildas’ defensive woes.

“Yes, we’ve conceded a lot of goals, but if you should criticise someone for that, it’s me, because I’m putting the players through a process here where it’s all about preparation,” he said.

The former USA women’s team assistant coach said that 15 years ago he might have had a different attitude and played for a 1-0 win rather than try to entertain.

“That’s not what this team is about. That’s not what these fans want to see,” Gustavsson said.

“We want to be aggressive and score a lot of goals. We’ve showed we can score a lot of goals but (must) defend better without being conservative.”

Gustavsson said the Matildas needed to cope with the pressure and scrutiny currently on them following Lisa De Vanna’s allegations of assault, bullying, harassment and grooming in Australian women’s football.

“What I’m trying to do is explain to players and staff is, if you genuinely want to be the team that can lift that (World Cup) trophy in ’23, we need to get used to performing under pressure, and look at pressure as a privilege, because that means there’s a lot of interest in our team … that’s a good thing,” he said.

“I hope this isn’t interpreted as me being disrespectful to the other important things that’s talked about now, meaning all the events in women’s football, but there’s so many things to be excited about here.”

Originally published as Results in friendly matches aren’t a priority for Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson




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Wallabies to meet Japan at Oita Stadium



The Wallabies are chasing five successive wins for the first time in six years in Saturday’s battle with Japan.

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper is wary of a Japan ambush on Saturday as the Australians chase five successive wins for the first time since 2015.

Hooper said there was never any chance the Wallabies would rest key players for the Test at Oita Stadium despite potentially tougher clashes against Scotland, England and Wales next month in the United Kingdom.

“There’s no joke – the Japanese are a solid team with threats across the board,” Hooper said.

“They have been a force that’s been growing quite quickly, certainly from 2015 onwards, and they obviously had a great showing in 2019 (at the World Cup) and a few really solid performances this year.”

“They play a high-tempo game. They’ll look to run things a lot. They’ve got some really good athletes.

“It will be a real challenge to nullify that speed and to take them to some places that they’re uncomfortable with.”

Hooper is glad the Wallabies are out of their comfort zone in chasing a fifth-straight victory.

Their run of four consecutive wins in the Rugby Championship came on home soil.

“Now we’re out of our own backyard,” the star flanker said.

“We’re going to go and play in some of the great stadiums around the world.

“These four games present us with a chance not only to build our game and see how we can grow and develop but also play some different styles of rugby that we haven’t been exposed to for quite a while.

“Put ourselves up against that and playing away from home is so critical in Test footy.”

It’s particularly “critical” for the younger members of Australia’s squad as preparations step up for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

“A lot of our younger players haven’t had that experience before, so certainly two years out from a World Cup up in that part of the world, it’s a really good experience for our group,” Hooper said.

The Wallabies side will include in-form flyhalf Quade Cooper, whose place in the touring squad to the UK is yet to be confirmed despite strong indications from coach Dave Rennie on Thursday that the 33-year-old former Queensland Reds star would tour despite his commitments with Japanese club Kintetsu Liners.

“Quade’s been fantastic. He’s been a great addition to the team on and off the park,” Hooper said of Cooper, who was returned to the Wallabies fold this year after an absence dating back to 2017.

“He’s be very giving of his time to younger players and the team in general.

“On the field that experience counts for a fair bit at Test level.

“He’s definitely left a great mark and a good impression on the team.”

Originally published as In-form Wallabies won’t take impressive Japan lightly




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