The Socceroos suffered their first defeat of this campaign last month, losing 2-1 to Japan due to a late own goal, while the Green Falcons maintained their 100% record thus far, thanks to a 3-2 win at home to China.
There may not be as many recognizable names like we saw in previous World cup campaigns, but every one of the Aussie players seem to know their role on this current squad, and they have executed the Graham Arnold way of playing very well in the qualifying phase.
Their traditional 4-2-3-1 formation, which we often see, provides this side with the critical building blocks that Arnold has often employed during his managerial career, with an emphasis on team defence and structure, plus an ability to play in between and behind opposition lines.
This approach, while not necessarily the most appealing for neutral fans, seems to be the most effective one for a side that went through a period of transition following the 2018 World Cup when captain Mile Jedinak and their all-time leading goalscorer Tim Cahill retired from international football.
Australia began this qualifying round strong, easing past China 3-0, then scoring on their only targeted effort in a 1-0 win over Vietnam before firing eight shots on goal versus Oman in a 3-1 win.
Under Arnold, their defensive shape has been near perfect over the past couple of years, conceding only twice in their 10 previous matches leading into the third round of qualifying.
Last month, the Socceroos suffered a setback for the first time in a long time, conceding to Japan after only eight minutes of play, an unusual feeling for this group who had scored the opening goal in every match that they had played from September 2019 until their defeat to the Samurai Warriors.
After a period of instability in the mid-200s, it appears that Saudi Arabia are back to being one of the teams to beat in Asia, currently a perfect 4-0 in round three of qualifying.
Herve Renard has implemented a 4-2-3-1 set up, which has enabled them to cover a lot of space defensively while also allowing their attacking midfielders to provide some good service to their lone striker up high.
So far, 2021 has been a memorable one for the Saudis, who did not concede in their first five matches this year and have won all nine games that they have played in 2021.
The entire team play their club football in Saudi Arabia, so there is instant chemistry and familiarity when they take to the field for their country, and that kind of understanding has been evident when we have seen them play in this qualifying campaign.
They have only conceded the opening goal in a game once this year, in their first match this round against Vietnam, but they came to life in the second half of that encounter, scoring three times, and they have never trailed a game since then.
This is a relatively inexperienced side that Renard has chosen for this upcoming qualification window, with 17 players selected who have not gotten into double digits in terms of international caps but being able to feature alongside players who they see regularly at club level seems to have allowed them to ease into this pressure situation in a comfortable manner.
Stoke City defender Harry Souttar seems to have a nose for the net, leading the Socceroos with six goals in this qualifying campaign in only nine international appearances.
Martin Boyle, who leads his club side Hibernian in Scotland with seven goals, has two in this round of qualifying, while goalkeeper Mathew Ryan, the reserve keeper for the current leaders in Spain Real Sociedad, has four clean sheets this year for the Aussies.
If there is a position where this team lack experience, it is in goal with Fawaz Al-Qarni leading the way with only 10 international caps, which is eight more than any of the other three keepers selected for this qualifying window.
Fahad Al-Muwallad is a versatile attacking threat and a strong playmaker as well, with 17 goals for the national team, while youngster Ali Al-Hassan already has a goal for the senior side in only three career appearances.
Australia possible starting lineup:
Ryan; Behich, Souttar, Sainsbury, Karacic; Jeggo, Hrustic, Irvine; Genreau; Leckie, Boyle
Saudi Arabia possible starting lineup:
Al-Qarni; Al-Ghanam, Al-Amri, Al-Bulaihi, Abdulhamid; Kanno, Al-Malki; Al-Muwallad, Al-Faraj, Al-Najei; Al-Shehri
We say: Australia 2-1 Saudi Arabia
The Socceroos have only lost one match all-time to Saudi Arabia, and even though there may not be the same kind of individual quality from them like we have witnessed in previous years, this is a solid team who are well drilled and know how to shut down the opposition effectively.
The Green Falcons are a dangerous offensive unit, who can sneak in behind a defensive line, but the Aussies have been virtually unbeatable when playing down under, with their last home defeat coming in a 2016 friendly against Greece.
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