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Australia happy to reach World Cup finals ‘the hard way’

Doha (AFP) – Coach Graham Arnold is counting on “Aussie mental strength” to see his side to victory over the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday and through to another playoff battle for a place in the World Cup finals.

Arnold said that Australia seem to like qualifying the “hard way” but insisted that they are ready for the showdown in the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Doha.

The winner will take on Peru in the same air-conditioned stadium on June 13 for a place in the finals that start in Qatar in November. 

New Zealand will play Costa Rica a day later to decide the final qualifying spot.

Arnold said that, because of coronavirus travel restrictions, Australia have played 14 of their 18 qualifying round games in the Middle East and also acknowledged the team’s record of scraping into the finals through playoffs.

“Australia is pretty much used to doing it the hard way. This is the fifth time in the playoffs and it is an experience that we are used to,” the coach told a press conference before their final training session on Monday. 

He admitted his team can struggle after conceding first, so his main task had been to prepare the players mentally as they look to reach the World Cup for the fifth time in a row.

“We have got a very strong group of players at the moment that have a strong belief in themselves. Physically we are really ready for this game.

“In the past we have had a lot of players that have missed games because of Covid and international travel. But now all those type of things have been removed,” he said.

“Mentally the boys are in great spirits and I believe with that mental Aussie strength that we will come through.”

Forward Mitchell Duke, who plays in Japan’s second division, said the game would be “a great occasion. All the boys know what’s at stake.

“There has been a good atmosphere around training and all the boys can’t wait to get on that pitch and do the job.”

A few hundred Australian fans are expected to be in the stadium against several thousand UAE fans who are flying in hoping to see their side qualify for only the second time since their debut in 1990.

“We are playing the most important match in the history of our country,” said the UAE’s Brazilian-born striker Caio Canedo.

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