Socceroos forward Mathew Leckie missed the past two World Cup qualification windows but hopes to make up for lost time when he returns to the side for a crucial clash against Saudi Arabia in Sydney on Thursday.
The new Melbourne City recruit had made himself unavailable for the September and October qualifiers where Australia claimed three wins from four.
Now back in Graham Arnold’s side for the Socceroos’ first home game in 763 days, Leckie is eager to make an impact at Parramatta’s CommBank Stadium.
“It was really tough. I always wanted to be there and for many years I’ve barely missed games,” he said.
“It was a tough decision, but sitting there and supporting the boys I was proud of the way we played and they’ve put us in a really good position in qualification. I’m happy to be back.”
Thursday: 🇦🇺 @Socceroos v 🇸🇦 @SaudiNT_EN #AsianQualifiers: “arguably a match between the two best sides in the third round of AFC’s 2022 @FIFAWorldCup qualification”. Should be a great game of ⚽️! MD https://t.co/njc9AfT9Lv
— Mark Donovan (@AusAmbKSA) November 9, 2021
With Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic both unavailable, Leckie’s experience will be crucial against a Saudi side flying high at the top of Group B.
The Saudis’ undefeated start is in large part due to the fact they have played all but one of their qualifiers on home soil, with their only away game taking place in neighbouring Oman.
Australia, by contrast, has been on the road since defeating Nepal in Canberra in 2019 and Leckie hoped the homecoming would give the Socceroos the lift they needed.
“Home advantage is a big thing and while we’ve not played at home for so long we’ve been able to get results and go on a big winning streak,” Leckie said.
“It’s a big boost and previous years show how strong we are at home. It’s tough for other teams to come over and play against us.
“We’ll be coming out with a lot of energy and putting them on the back foot early and trying to control the game from the first minute.”
Socceroos: Homecoming 🇦🇺 @milosdegenek45 & team are playing at home for the first time in over 2️⃣ years.
— #AsianCup2023 (@afcasiancup) November 10, 2021
Unlike most of his fellow Socceroos teammates, Leckie’s season is yet to get under way with the September and October withdrawal meaning he hasn’t played a competitive game since June.
Nevertheless, the 65-cap veteran felt confident he would be up to the rigours of facing the Saudis before a trip to the UAE to face China next week.
“I feel in great shape. I’ve had a fairly long pre-season,” he added.
“We’ve picked up a few friendly games in the last week or two.
“Regardless of how I feel the adrenaline through the body playing in front of our fans for the first time in so long, and I guess the moment of the game and the scenario we are in, it’s a very important game there’s no question and sometimes it’s more a mental thing than a physical one.”