On Tuesday night the Socceroos will aim to make it three wins from three in qualification for the 2016 World Cup in Russia. But it won't be easy.
After Australia eased past Bangladesh on Thursday in Perth and edged Kyrgyzstan 2-1 in Bishkek last June, Mubin Ergashev’s Tajikistan will provide Australia with their trickiest test to date in qualification.
The game is being played amid the backdrop of civil unrest in the Tajik capital Dushanbe. What’s more, the Tajiks will be desperate for three points to kick-start their campaign as they cast a realistic eye on second spot in the group.
— Daniel Garb (@DanielGarb) September 6, 2015
Socceroo coach Ange Postecoglou hinted strongly that his team selection for last Thursday’s Bangladesh qualifier in Perth – which resulted in a 5-0 rout of the Bengal Tigers – was made with one eye on Tajikistan.
So expect one or two changes when the Socceroos run out in front of a hostile crowd at the Republican Central Stadium.
The pitch at Dushanbe's 24,000 capacity venue (also known as the Pamir Stadium) is an artificial surface. This should suit the Socceroos down to the ground given their slick passing and possession game (Perth’s pitch was perfect for that type of game, unlike the shoddy surface in Bishkek for June’s narrow win over the plucky Kyrgyzstan).
— Tajikistan Football (@fft_official) September 6, 2015
The heat will be a factor, though, with the forecast on game day tipped to be around 32 degrees (6pm local time for kick off).
Australia certainly have the quality to win the possession stats with Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy and Mark Milligan in midfield all adept at holding the ball and controlling the game. And in the heat Australia will aim to work the Tajiks.
And after the experience in Bishkek, will be mentally ready for the unique challenge of playing in Central Asia against an opponent they’ve never faced before (not to mention in a country reeling from an outbreak of politically motivated violence with dozens dead in recent days).
Ergashev is likely to play a number of familiar names from FC Istikol, a domestic club he previously coached. And he claims taking the game to their opponent would be "suicide".
He took the role temporarily in July and Australia will be his first game on the international stage after he succeeded the departing Mukhsin Mukhamadiev. If his comments are to be believed, expect a cagey counter-attack game plan from the 158 world ranked Tajiks.
The Central Asians have just one point from their opening two games in Group E - a 3-1 home loss to Jordan followed by a 1-1 draw in Dakar (they didn’t play last Thursday).
For Tajikistan, finishing second in the group is the goal and to do that, three points against Australia would be gold dust.
But the Socceroos, the reigning Asian Champions, have the quality to come out of this tie with another three points against an opponent likely to sit back and try to hit them on the break.
Australia will fear nothing. They are professionally prepared with some of the best support staff around and a team in form and confident in their ability.
Expect another fascinating encounter on the Road to Russia this Tuesday night.comments