Socceroos ‘embrace’ brutal World Cup draw

Australia Socceroos Press Conference & Training Session
Socceroos coach Graham Arnold isn’t fussed by the draw. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold says his team will “embrace” the challenges presented for World Cup qualification after being drawn to face nemesis Japan and Saudi Arabia for the third straight time for one of two automatic spots in the 2026 tournament.

The Socceroos, vying to get to a sixth straight World Cup, went undefeated through the second round of qualifying and didn’t concede a goal in six games against Lebanon, Palestine and Bangladesh while scoring 22 goals across those fixtures.

But the next challenge to be one of 18 teams from the Asian Football Confederation vying to automatically qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will feature an unprecedented 48 teams across the US, Canada and Mexico, is more daunting.

Arnold’s team finished behind both Japan and Saudi Arabia in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup before making the tournament via an interconfederation playoff.

The Socceroos will also have to get past China, Bahrain and Indonesia when matches begin in September, but Arnold said with the path now clear it was time to get to work.

“It’s nice to have a clear understanding of what’s ahead of us over the next 12 months. We’ve spent the last few months looking at various scenarios on what our path might look like, which will now help accelerate our planning,” Arnold said.

“With that detail now in front of us to prepare, our sole focus is to qualify directly by this time next year.

“We knew this round of qualifying would present challenges however the draw panned out, particularly given the way the game is growing across the confederation. I feel it’s important we embrace those challenges, with our mindset, belief and camaraderie integral to achieve our goal of qualification.

“We’ve put a lot of work into developing this group of players, and the next 12 months is an opportunity for them to showcase their qualities as international footballers at a crucial point in our journey to another FIFA World Cup.

“I can’t speak highly enough of this playing group and their commitment during the campaign so far, and I’ve got no doubt they will bring more of the same.”

The next stage of matches will be played in a group-stage format from September 2024 until June 2025.

The top two teams from each of the three AFC groups (six teams in total) will advance directly to the FIFA World Cup.


Australia v Bahrain – Thursday, September 5

Indonesia v Australia – Tuesday, September 10

Australia v China – Thursday, October 10

Japan v Australia – Tuesday, October 15

Australia v Saudi Arabia – Thursday, November 14

Bahrain v Australia – Tuesday, November 19

Australia v Indonesia – Thursday, March 20

China v Australia – Tuesday, March 25

Australia v Japan – Thursday, June 5

Saudi Arabia v Australia – Tuesday, June 10