Aussies eye goal fest in Thai battle

Aussies eye goal fest in Thai battle

War Elephants ready to 'spring big surprise'

Thailand coach Milovan Rajevac, right, and midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin during a press conference in Melbourne yesterday. PR
Thailand coach Milovan Rajevac, right, and midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin during a press conference in Melbourne yesterday. PR

When Thailand and Australia square off in their last match of the 2018 World Cup qualifying tournament in Melbourne today, they will both be anxious for a win for very different reasons.

While Australia will be looking to score a big win to increase their chances of claiming the runners-up place in Group B and the second automatic qualification spot for Russia 2018, the War Elephants are desperate to create their own history of sorts.

Thailand, who are at the foot of the group table with only two points, are out of the running for a place in the finals and will only be playing for pride at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.

This is only the second time the Thais have reached Asia's final stage of World Cup qualifying with the first coming more than a decade ago for the 2002 finals -- and they have yet to win a game in this phase of competition.

Saudi Arabia's defeat to the United Arab Emirates last Tuesday meant Australia went into Thursday's clash with Japan with the chance to qualify for Russia 2018 with a game to spare.

However, a 2-0 defeat saw the Blue Samurai instead seal the top spot and their place in the finals, leaving the Socceroos trailing the Saudis on goal difference ahead of a final round of fixtures that see Japan travel to Jeddah in the day's late kick-off.

A point for Ange Postecoglou's side will guarantee third place and a play-off berth, but a big win would apply huge pressure on Saudi Arabia as Group B reaches a thrilling climax.

Thailand, who are without suspended midfielder Thitiphan Puangjan, have found life in the continental third round of World Cup qualifying tough, but their 2-2 draw with Australia in Bangkok last November can be considered one of the high points in the campaign.

Thailand also played to a 1-1 draw against the United Arab Emirates at home.

Thailand coach Milovan Rajevac told a pre-match conference yesterday: "This is our last game and it is an important one for Australia because they need a win to stake a claim for a place in the finals.

"Of course, Australia are a strong team and are the favourites to beat us, but we will try our best to get a good result and spring a big surprise.

"In the first leg, we finished tied 2-2 which means both teams did well in that game.

We know each other well but I don't want to give more details about our plans for the match."

Thai playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin said his teammates are confident of holding the Socceroos to a draw again.

"The pressure is on the Australians. We only have to go in there and enjoy football. They are a strong team, but we can all hope for another draw," said Chanathip.

Meanwhile, Postecoglou has an unshakeable faith that his Socceroos will feature at next year's World Cup but said the team must maintain a relentless pressure in today's qualifier.

"We have just got to play well," Postecoglou said on the eve of the match.

"If you don't play well you leave things to chance, and we don't want to leave things to chance.

"We've got to make sure we stay focused and play our football, keeping it at a high tempo and pressuring the opposition from start to finish.

"When we do that things tend to fall into place."

Australia will expect their forwards to fire against Thailand but Postecoglou said he would not harp on the need for goals.

"You can't start a game thinking that way. You can start getting a bit anxious," he said.

"But I'm confident of goals. If we win, and win well, we will put pressure on the opposition to get a result."

The importance of the occasion was not lost on veteran forward Tim Cahill, who promised a "fearless" display against the Thais.

"We all know what's on the line," said the 37-year-old, Australia's most prolific scorer.

"This is a massive moment for our country to stake a claim in a World Cup. I feel we're ready. Goals will definitely come. I'm confident we'll score a lot of goals."

Australia will be boosted by the return of midfielder Aaron Mooy, who was a late withdrawal from the Japan match.

Striker Tomi Juri should also be fit to start against the Thais. Bangkok Post/Agencies

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