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Football: Cahill relishing ‘cut-throat’ Syria play-off

Malacca (Malaysia) (AFP) – Veteran forward Tim Cahill on Wednesday said Australia were relishing the “cut-throat” challenge of beating Syria over two legs as they look to reach next year’s World Cup via the nerve-jangling play-offs.

Australia’s record goal-scorer said the pre-match favourites would look to dictate play on Thursday in steamy Malacca, Malaysia, venue for Syria’s ‘home’ tie due to their country’s ongoing civil war.

The winner of the two-legged play-off, which concludes in Sydney on Tuesday, will face the fourth-placed CONCACAF federation side — currently the United States — for a berth at Russia 2018.

“It’s the cut-throat time where if we don’t win over these two games, you’re out,” Cahill told reporters at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Krubong.

“Yes, you want to go through in the group but you also understand how difficult it is to qualify. And now how ruthless this qualifying stage can be for us. 

“We really want to dictate the game tomorrow and pretty much stay the same that we have in every game: we want to dominate the ball, and we want to win and then also take them back to Australia in a few days and finish the job off properly.”

Australia haven’t been in a similar position since 2005, when under Guus Hiddink they edged Uruguay on penalties to qualify for their first World Cup since 1974.

Since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, they have waltzed through their last two qualifying campaigns but they have found things much tougher this time around.

– ‘Up for the fight’ –

A youthful Cahill, now 37, was on the pitch when John Aloisi’s spot-kick took the Socceroos to the 2006 World Cup, but he was keeping his mind firmly on the present on Wednesday.

“I suppose it does bring back some memories but the biggest thing for us is just embracing this challenge of having to come to Malaysia to play a team in Syria — we’re under no illusions it’s going to be a tough game,” he said.

“But we also know that we have enough to do the job and it’s over two legs, so it’s an exciting time for us. We really want to embrace this challenge and start off on the front foot tomorrow night with the right result.”

Coach Ange Postecoglou said he expected to be faced with the familiar task of breaking down a defence-minded opposition — a puzzle that has proved tough to solve so far in qualifying.

“That’s been our challenge throughout this whole World Cup qualifying campaign: teams are quite happy to sit back against us, we’re quite happy to go at them and try to test them as much as we can,” he said.

“There are definitely some similarities with what we’re going to face tomorrow. 

“I guess we’re at that point now where the players have pretty much experienced the whole gamut of what a World Cup qualifying process means, both when things go well, when things don’t go well. 

“I think it all adds to the growth of the team. And I think whatever we face tomorrow night, it won’t be unfamiliar to them, so… I expect we will be up for the fight and more importantly, with the experience behind us, be able to overcome it.”

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