London: For Australia, it’s a last-ditch double-shot for a place at a fifth straight World Cup. For the United Arab Emirates, it’s a chance to get one match closer to a first World Cup appearance since its debut in 1990.
There’ll be no second chances when the Socceroos and United Arab Emirates meet Tuesday in a playoff for the right to take on Peru six days later in another playoff with a place alongside France, Denmark and Tunisia in Group D at the World Cup at stake.
Both teams finished third in their groups in Asian qualifying, leaving them vying to meet the fifth-place team from South America.
After taking maximum points from the first three games in the third round of Asian qualifiers — extending its winning streak to 11 games — Australia won just one of its next seven to finish behind Saudi Arabia and Japan in the group.
That meant another playoff route to the World Cup. But unlike last time, when Australia beat Syria and then Honduras on a home-and away basis in the continental and inter-continental playoffs, both matches will be winner-takes-all.
Australia warmed up with a 2-1 win over Jordan in a friendly last week, just its second win in eight games.
With star player Tom Rogic of Scottish champion Celtic withdrawing for personal reasons and former Premier League regulars Aaron Mooy and Mat Ryan short of game time, preparation has not been ideal.
For the UAE team, being close to home is motivation. UAE has recalled 2016 Asian Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman to the team. The veteran playmaker, who has struggled with injuries in recent years, will once again link up with Ali Mabkhout.
The 31-year-old Mabkhout has scored 81 international goals, more than the Australian squad combined, with his latest coming in a 1-1 draw with Gambia on May 29.
He scored the goal that gave the UAE a 1-0 win when the teams in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Asian Cup, putting defending champion Australia out of the tournament.
Source: Bahrain News Agency