02:48 am - Sunday 24 May 2015

Oman a danger for Socceroos

By staff - Wed Jun 06, 9:16 am

Firstly, whilst Denmark’s a fine team from a fine footballing tradition with a high FIFA ranking, there isn’t a lot of dynamite in the current Danish crop, not at least compared with the dazzling ensemble which attracted that moniker in the 80s.

Irrespective, their passage into Australia’s penalty area was frequent and too often unhindered. The fact that Mark Schwarzer didn’t have more, or really any, saves to make reflects more on the lack of Danish gun powder nowadays than anything else.

Secondly, Oman away is a tough gig. They inflicted Australia’s only defeat in stage three qualifying and were undefeated in Muscat for the entire phase.

Oman isn’t an intimidating place, as some destinations famously are for visiting football teams. Quite the opposite, actually. The locals are congenial and very laid back. There is no doubt at all that football is their main thing, but a cauldron the Sultan Qaboos stadium certainly isn’t.

Still, they are defiantly hard to beat there. And the locals are getting the taste for this international football thing. Since winning the Gulf Cup in 2009 – their first, and a huge regional honour – and now winning through to this stage of World Cup qualifying, there’s an emerging belief that something remarkable is possible.

It would be premature to read too much into their 3-0 opening loss to Japan, too. Remember that Oman were barely breathing after the first three games of the previous stage, after drawing with the bereft Saudis at home in game one and then losing ignominiously away to Thailand in game two. In game three, Australia beat them in a canter, by three goals to nil, the Socceroos dispatching the Omanis in much the same way as Japan did in Saitama last weekend.

But Paul le Guen and his men regrouped for the final three games; digging in for a draw in Riyadh before welcoming Australia and Thailand into their venus fly trap in Muscat, winning both games and qualifying for this final stage.

And perhaps that’s part of the danger facing Australia: a bigger and better team, vastly more experienced and from harder-edged competitions. Through the waft of spices from the old souq and adjacent to the glittering and inviting waters of the Arabian sea, lies a team waiting to pounce. Perhaps the surroundings, certainly compared with other Arabian destinations, lull visiting teams into some sort of false sense.

That Oman started slowly reflects more on their international inexperience than their ability. They’ll love hosting Australia again, so relatively soon after their last triumph. The visit of Asia’s top-ranked team provides exactly the stimulus for Oman to kick-start their dreams of Brazil 2014. Goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi (of Wigan Athletic in the EPL) said beating Australia was the team’s biggest victory.

Al Habsi began his working life as a fireman and if Australia can bring their attacking game from Denmark then the Omani custodian will indeed need all hands to the pumps. History, though, tells us it’s just not going to be that easy. A 5pm kick-off (local time) means the temperature will probably be in the mid-30s. In four of the five games played against Oman, Australia have had real difficulty.

And if the Socceroos don’t emerge from Muscat intact, things get a whole lot stickier just a few days hence when the Blue Samurai hit Brisbane.

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