Oman out to win at all costs
Holger Osieck's Socceroos need to be wary of Oman. The Gulf nation are getting desperate such is their predicament, and as always that can mean they throw caution to the wind.
Oman must be cursing the name Shinji Okazaki. Fans at his former J. League club used to sing a catchy little ditty to celebrate his goals, but it-s unlikely the Omani-s are singing his praise.
“Get the goal, get the goal! Oka-zaki! Get the goal! Get the goal! Oka-zaki! Get the goal! Hey! Hey! Oka-chan!” sung Shimizu S-Pulse fans in unison every time the bullocking striker got on the scoresheet for the Shizuoka club.
These days Okazaki plies his trade for Bundesliga outfit VFB Stuttgart - predominantly as a wide-lying midfielder - but he-s still scoring vital goals for the Blue Samurai.
And his most recent strike; a scrappy effort deep into stoppage time which silenced a packed house at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Muscat puts Oman in a tricky position in their upcoming World Cup qualifier against the Socceroos in Sydney.
Had Paul Le Guen-s side held on for a point against Japan, they would have leapfrogged Australia into second place in the group, albeit having played one game more than the Socceroos.
Instead the Red Warriors find themselves behind third-placed Iraq on goal difference and needing to avoid defeat in Sydney if they are to have any chance of progression.
That-s particularly the case with their final qualifier to take place away in Jordan, and with Iraq still to play in the penultimate round of action, an encounter with Australia is the first in a trio of make-or-break fixtures for Le Guen-s side.
The Australians have seen it all before, finishing top of a group which also contained Oman in the third round of qualifying.
Just over two years ago Holger Osieck-s side thumped Oman 3-0 at the same venue in Sydney, however a shock 1-0 defeat in the reverse fixture in Muscat will have given the Socceroos cause for concern.
And given that Oman have so far proved tough to break down in the final round of qualifying, thanks in no small part to the form of their inspirational captain and goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, the Socceroos can afford to leave nothing to chance as they look to take another step towards the World Cup finals in Brazil.
It would be something of a surprise to see Oman take such a step themselves given their poor record on both the continental and World Cup stage.
The team from the picturesque Gulf nation failed to qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup in nearby Qatar and they-ve never reached the World Cup finals.
Their best tournament performance came on home soil at the 2009 Gulf Cup of Nations, in which Oman finally claimed victory in a Gulf Cup final at the third time of asking.
It doesn-t help that the overwhelming majority of the Omani team play their football surrounded by the relative comforts of home, with only a handful of players branching out to play in the marginally tougher leagues of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
Imad Al-Hosni is one such player to have tested his luck outside of his homeland, but after an unhappy spell at Belgian club Charleroi, the veteran striker soon found himself back in familiar territory first at Qatari club Al-Rayyan and more recently at Saudi giants Al-Ahli.
Al-Hosni is the man who scored that famous winner against the Socceroos in the third round of qualifying but goals have proved much harder to come by of late. And with goal difference likely to play a role in deciding the final composition of the group, Oman coach Le Guen desperately needs his team to find the back of the net in Sydney.
Otherwise it could be a case of yet another wasted opportunity for Oman, a team which has flattered to deceive rather than made steady progress. Having come this far, Le Guen will be eager to ensure his team doesn-t surrender without a fight.