Wednesday 04 October 2017, 08:01

Contrasting styles await in Asian finale

  • Australia and Syria meet over two legs with the loser eliminated

  • Australia are Asia's highest scorers while Syria boast a strong defence

  • It is a first-ever Asian World Cup play-off for both nations

After a gruelling two-year campaign both Australia and Syria head into the AFC 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ play-off in the knowledge that there is no longer any margin for error. Just 180 minutes separate them from moving a step closer to their ambition, or conversely, World Cup oblivion.

In many ways it is an unlikely match-up. Australia as Asian champions would have harboured high hopes of automatic qualification but instead, they missed out on goal difference. Syria, for their part, have enjoyed somewhat of a football fairytale in reaching this stage for the first time, despite playing all their home matches in a neutral venue due to the turmoil in their homeland.

Australia Chasing a fourth successive World Cup qualification, Australia may count themselves unlucky to miss out on an automatic ticket to Russia 2018. The Socceroos lost just one of their ten matches in the final round, and ended the campaign a full six points clear of what Syria achieved in Group A. But finishing in front of goal has been a problem, and that will be the focus for the Aussies who typically dominate possession with their pro-active attacking style. Australia were Asia's highest scoring team across the entire Russia 2018 campaign.

Syria With echoes of Iraq’s storied Asian Cup win in 2007, Syria have progressed to this stage on the back of some truly stunning resolve and sheer determination. Their defensive record has been extraordinary and they conceded just six times in their nine Round 3 matches until that epic 2-2 draw in Iran, which shored up third place. Syria’s campaign has gathered momentum and support in recent times. Experienced striker Omar Al Somah returned to the fold two months ago after a five five-year absence from the national team, while fellow forward Firas Al Khatib was also a welcome returnee.

Player to watch Tim Cahill has long been the man for the big occasion. Though now in his twilight years, Cahill remains a danger around the penalty box and in the air. He is just two goals away from hitting 50 in international football, and although he has scored nine during Russia 2018 qualifying, the last came 13 months ago to the day.

The stat 0 – Both Australia and Syria are featuring in their first AFC World Cup play-off. Australia competed in intercontinental play-offs in five of their six campaigns prior to joining the AFC in 2006, but none since.

The matches Syria-Australia, Krubong (Malaysia), 5 October

Australia-Sydney, Sydney, 10 October