The Socceroos could be pitted against Iran for the first time since 1997’s World Cup qualification playoff when the draw for the third and final stage of qualifying for Qatar 2022 is held on Thursday.
Australia infamously blew a 2-0 lead in the second leg of its playoff for a spot at the 1998 World Cup against the Iranians at the MCG, with the visitors making the most of a second-half disruption by serial pest Peter Hore to win the tie on away goals after a 2-2 draw.
Ex-Socceroo Mark Bosnich says the game provided inspiration for future generations to go on and end Australia’s long wait to reach a World Cup.
“Obviously that was a disappointment for Australian football … but I remember saying to some of the younger boys then who went on to do it – to Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell – I remember saying to them at the time ‘look sometimes you have to go through this, to have something very, very special’,” Bosnich told AAP.
“Lo and behold, what was it? Eight years later? They got something very special in 2005.”
1️⃣ more day until #AsianQualifiers Final Round Draw!
🇦🇺 Australia head coach, Graham Arnold is confident of his side's chances of making it through the Final Round 💪 pic.twitter.com/AlylUYRmux
— #AsianCup2023 (@afcasiancup) June 30, 2021
Since that fateful match, despite Australia’s move to the Asian confederation in the mid-2000s, the nations have not played each other.
That could all change when the groups are drawn by the AFC for the final stage of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
Australia, which topped its second-phase group with a perfect eight wins from eight matches, has been placed in pot two for the draw alongside South Korea.
It means Graham Arnold’s team will face either Japan or Iran in its group, with the two top-ranked Asian teams placed in pot one.
The top two nations from the six-team groups qualify automatically for next year’s World Cup with the third-place teams in each group to face each other in a single-match playoff.
The winner of that playoff progresses to a two-legged playoff against a team from a different confederation for a place in Qatar.
The other big issue for Arnold to contend with will be the location of the fixtures.
The Socceroos coach is desperate for Australia to host at least some of the matches after finishing their second phase group in a bubble in Kuwait but COVID restrictions may mean the games are again played in a tournament-style format at a centralised venue.
Bosnich believes that scenario should not faze Arnold’s team.
“If you’re in a hub I think it actually should enhance your performances,” he said.
“You’re together all the time. There’s no sort of interruptions. You don’t have to travel here, travel there, you’re in one place. As a player, I would look forward to that.”
Thursday’s draw will be held from 5pm AEST.