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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Australia ready for 'most important game in 10 years' as World Cup fate rests on Thailand victory

Asian champions need to hope Saudi Arabia do not match their result when they face Japan on Tuesday, otherwise it will be a place in the playoffs.

Mark Milligan, centre, and Tim Cahill, right, will be part of the Australia squad aiming to secue a place at the 2018 World Cup. Toru Yamanaka / AFP
Mark Milligan, centre, and Tim Cahill, right, will be part of the Australia squad aiming to secue a place at the 2018 World Cup. Toru Yamanaka / AFP

Stand-in captain Mark Milligan has described Australia’s World Cup decider against Thailand on Tuesday as the country’s most important qualifier in a decade.

The reigning Asian champions sit third in Group B going into the final round of fixtures, level on points with second-placed Saudi Arabia but with a two-goal deficit in goal difference.

As such, Australia may well need to register a convincing victory against Thailand, the group’s bottom side, in Melbourne while also hoping Saudi Arabia do not match their result when they host pool winners Japan in Jeddah.

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Japan sealed top spot and qualification for next summer’s World Cup by defeating Australia 2-0 in Saitama on Thursday. Only the top two sides are guaranteed a place in Russia, with the third-placed team then having to enter the play-offs to make the global finals. The UAE, lying fourth, still hold faint hope of sneaking a spot right at the death.

However, Milligan is concentrating solely on what faces Australia. Thailand might be propping up the group, but they secured one of their two points thus far when they held the Aussies to a 2-2 draw in Bangkok last November.

"There's no more important game that I can recall over the last 10 years since we've been in Asia for qualification," Milligan told the team’s official website. "It's going to be no easy feat for us on Tuesday, but we'll come ready and we'll get the result needed."

With the time difference meaning Australia are in action hours before the Saudis, Milligan knows a high-scoring win against Thailand would ramp up the pressure on the West Asians.

Australia are attempting to qualify for a fourth straight World Cup, whereas Saudi Arabia last contested the global finals in 2006. Understandably, Milligan wants to get the job done this week instead of having to rely on a series of play-offs to book their place in Russia.

"Going to consecutive World Cups has been very important not just for the national team, but for Australian football, the A-League and lower leagues," the former Baniyas midfielder said. "I still truly believe that we will go out Tuesday night and we'll put in a good performance.

“Whether it's Wednesday that it's announced that we're going to a World Cup or whether we have to wait a bit longer, it will happen. Obviously that's worst-case scenario, but there's a long way before we have to hit that panic button."