Thursday, 8 March 2012
The high-flying Socceroos enter Asia's year-long final qualifying round as top seeds in their quest for a third consecutive World Cup finals berth in Brazil in 2014.
performance in the previous round, capped by a come-from-behind 4-2 win over Saudi Arabia in Melbourne, has elevated them to No.20 in FIFA's latest world rankings.
The pay-off is Asia's top billing, which means they will avoid second-ranked South Korea, who are automatically top seed in the second of two five-nation qualifying groups.
With any luck, Australia will also avoid reigning Asian champions Japan when the draw is made at Asian Football Confederation (AFC) headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on Friday night (1900 AEDT).
The Japanese, famously pipped by Australia in a whirlwind finish at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany, gained revenge with a 1-0 win in last year's Asian Cup decider in Qatar.
They were ranked second in Asia until a recent 1-0 home loss to Uzbekistan caused them to slip below Korea.
Australia has a 50-50 chance of avoiding Japan.
If that happens, their sternest opposition is likely to come from Iran, who broke Australian hearts at the MCG in 1997 but are now ranked 51 in the world, 18 spots below Japan.
Coach Holger Osieck could hardly feel better placed after a qualifying campaign which has delivered the Socceroos five wins from six matches.
Their only blemish was an away loss to Oman, who they could meet yet again in the final round.
Their most recent outing, a dead rubber in terms of qualification, marked the stylish return of dual World Cup veteran Mark Bresciano.
The talented midfielder dominated the game against Saudi Arabia, which also gave Osieck plenty of selection options for the long road ahead.
The final 10-match phase of Australia's journey will start on June 8 after a first-round bye on June 3.
Asia's top 10 teams are split into two groups of five, who will play each other home and away, with the top two in each group progressing to Brazil and the third-placed facing further qualifiers.
The final round will take just over a year to complete, finishing on June 18 in 2013.
As Asia's top seed, Australia will be pitted in Friday's draw against either Japan (33) or Iran (51), plus either Uzbekistan (67) or Iraq (76), either Jordan (83) or 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar (88), and either Oman (92) or Lebanon (124).