By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia have breezed through their opening World Cup qualifiers with 15 goals in three matches but will take nothing for granted when they face bogey side Jordan on Thursday.
Jordan, second in Group B behind the Socceroos in 2022 Asian qualifying, have proved a thorn in Australia’s side in recent years and stunned Graham Arnold’s men 1-0 during the group stage of the Asian Cup in January.
It set the tone for Australia’s ill-fated title defence in the United Arab Emirates, with the Socceroos ultimately crashing out at the quarter-finals.
While Australia made short work of Taiwan, Nepal and Kuwait in earlier qualifiers, questions remain over the team’s scoring ability against well-organised defences and Jordan will provide stubborn opposition on home soil.
Australia’s attacking options have been reduced following an injury to Cyprus-based forward Apostolos Giannou and the absence of winger Mathew Leckie, who has been excused from national duty to remain in Germany with his new-born son.
Five-cap forward Mitchell Duke was drafted in as Giannou’s replacement and joins Adam Taggart, the Korean league’s joint leading goalscorer, and Awer Mabil as Australia’s forward threats.
“There’s a few fresh faces here so once we all come in, we will all gel together on the training pitch and get those combinations going,” said Western Sydney Wanderers captain Duke, who has scored four goals in five A-League games.
“We’ve had a few good games recently in our previous camps against Nepal, Chinese Taipei, so we’ll be high on confidence.”
Jordan enjoy a fine home record against Australia, having won World Cup qualifiers against the Socceroos in 2012 and 2015.
Their coach Vital Borkelmans is under pressure, however, following a 0-0 draw at home to Kuwait last month and an unconvincing 2-1 win over Taiwan in September.
Jordan have traditionally profited most on the counter-attack against better-resourced teams like Australia but Borkelmans has demanded they shelve their defensive instincts and become more enterprising.
“I say to my players … don’t defend — we must try to make goals,” Borkelmans told Australian media.
“We must attack. When you play against big teams like Australia and they have the ball in the box, they will score.
“We must play high (up the field), we must pressure.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)