Emerging midfielder Jackson Irvine doesn’t expect Australia’s tricky position in World Cup qualifying to have any influence on how the Socceroos take on Saudi Arabia this week.
The Australians, who have reached the last three World Cups, are third in their Asian qualifying group three points behind Japan and Saudi Arabia with three games remaining.
The top two teams in both the Asian qualifying groups get an automatic spot at Russia 2018, with the third-place teams going into a series of playoffs.
After a home game against the Saudis on Thursday, Australia will play a friendly against Brazil to prepare for the Confederations Cup in Russia. Its next World Cup qualifier will be away to Japan.
“Not once has anyone talked about a make-or-break situation or a high-pressure situation,” Irvine said of the squad’s preparations in Adelaide. “We know that this is about a longer process of us building something a lot more significant than just doing everything we can to qualify in one game.
“We know that with the ability of the individuals we have got, combined with the plan that we put together, if we perform at our levels then we’re capable of winning the game comfortably.”
Irvine has started Australia’s last two games, scoring his debut international goal in the 2-0 win over United Arab Emirates in March, and was instrumental in keeping his club Burton Albion in the Championship in England.
“It’s a year that I could have only dreamed how well it could have gone at domestic level,” he said. “My full focus (now) is on the next few weeks here because this is going to be a huge month in the development of this team.
“It’s a chance for us to make another marker in how we’re moving forward, and hopefully the results reflect that.” Australia hasn’t lost a game in the third round of qualifying, but was held to four consecutive draws that started with a 2-2 in Jeddah in the first match against Saudi Arabia and included a 1-1 at home against Japan.
Japan and Saudi Arabia have each had five wins, a draw and a loss to lead Group B with 16 points. The Saudis appeared at four consecutive World Cups from 1994 to ’06, but haven’t qualified since then and winger Yahya Al-Shehri is only too aware of the context of the game against Australia.
“We have to play them on their home turf, but we’ll go there to win and to hold onto top spot,” Al-Shehri told FIFA.com. “Morale is pretty high at the moment due to our winning run. We’re a big team in Asian terms and missing out on the last two World Cups has made us doubly determined to qualify.”