• Awer Mabil celebrates a goal with his Socceroos teammates (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Australia’s hopes of reaching a fifth successive FIFA World Cup took a record-breaking step in the right direction on Friday.
Jonathan Bernard

SBS The World Game
8 Oct 2021 - 11:00 AM  UPDATED 8 Oct 2021 - 11:00 AM

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The Socceroos earned a slice of history after becoming the first nation to win 11 straight matches in a single World Cup qualifying campaign.

A much-improved second half saw Australia overcome Oman 3-1 at the Khalifa International Stadium, with goals coming courtesy of Awer Mabil, Martin Boyle and Mitch Duke.

It was the type of performance coach Graham Arnold had been hoping for in Doha, with the three points enough to send his side back to the top of Group B ahead of a tough trip to Japan on Tuesday.

Not since June 2019 have Australia tasted defeat – a 1-0 loss to Korea Republic – and their record run now has them in a favourable position to qualify for Qatar, albeit with seven games to go.

Whether that streak extends to 12 in Saitama remains to be seen, but should the Socceroos snatch anything other than defeat against their old rivals, it will feel all the same.

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Shaken, not stirred

Oman have always proven to be a tough test for their Australian counterparts, and their match in Doha was no different.

Branko Ivankovic’s men approached the fixture full of confidence from their opening victory over Japan and responded well after going a goal down inside the opening 10 minutes.

A narrow 4-1-2-1-2 formation helped to congest the middle of the pitch and restrict the movement in Australia’s midfield - working to good effect particularly in transition.

But for all their efforts to head into half-time level – aided by Rabia Al-Mandhar’s fierce finish – it proved to only delay a sixth defeat from their last 10 green-and-gold encounters.

Australia were made to work hard in what was their toughest task yet on the road to Qatar, but if their second-half display was anything to go by, they know exactly what’s required to get the job done.

Mr Reliable

Martin Boyle’s unexpected call-up to the Socceroos set-up continues to prove a masterstroke with every passing appearance.

The Scottish-born attacker came to the fore yet again for Australia during their Group B match with Oman, scoring the go-ahead goal in an eventual 3-1 win.

It was a moment of relief for Graham Arnold, who had witnessed his side struggle to contain their opposition during a difficult first half.

Boyle’s breakthrough, his fifth in nine games for the Socceroos, further enhanced his significance up front for a national team set to face even stronger opposition on the road to potential World Cup qualification.

Be it out wide, in behind, or up front, the versatile 28-year-old is integral to Australia’s chances of success – not to mention Hibernian’s, for whom his six goals are joint-most in the Scottish Premiership thus far.

Memorable milestone

Tom Rogic marked his 50th Socceroos appearance with a strong 63-minute showing against Oman in Doha.

The central midfielder mustered several opportunities to break the deadlock and was instrumental in Martin Boyle’s second-half goal, having burst through the Oman defence to find Adam Taggart with a cutback from the by-line.

It was an encouraging display from the 28-year-old who has already turned in impressive performances against China PR and Vietnam during this third phase of qualification.

Such a return to form is a welcome sight for Socceroos fans and could perhaps be put down to Ange Postecoglou’s arrival at Celtic.

Postecoglou has already afforded his playmaker 12 appearances this season – a stark contrast to his situation under predecessor Neil Lennon – and that belief can only mean good things for his domestic and international ambitions.

Home away from home

The Socceroos have had to do it the hard way during the third phase of World Cup qualification but that hasn’t deterred their drive one bit.

Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium has played home to the Socceroos due to coronavirus restrictions on home soil, with Friday’s 3-1 victory over Oman marking their second ‘home’ match thus far.

Their 3-0 win over China PR in matchday one was also moved to Doha and it remains to be seen whether they’ll be able to return to Australia for a crucial clash against Saudi Arabia in November.

Spending more than 18 months away from home would be tough on any team, but for Graham Arnold’s men, it’s helped build a strong record in a region they hope to return to for the World Cup next year.

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