Jackson Irvine hopes Australia can reward fans who get up early to watch their World Cup playoff against Peru and inspire the next generation of Socceroos with victory. The one-off clash for a spot in the Qatar finals kicks off in Doha from 9pm on Monday, meaning fans in Australia will need to rise in the wee hours of Tuesday morning to catch the game on screens at 4am AEST.
“It seems like a lifetime ago but in a different time that was me getting up and watching games in the morning,” Irvine said in Doha. “Hopefully the younger generation will be waking up and some future Socceroos can tell their own story about how they saw us qualify and come live it themselves.”
Australia and Irvine are no strangers to the playoffs route, having reached the 2018 World Cup in Russia after two-legged knockouts against Syria and Honduras. Irvine played in the scoreless first leg of that playoff against Honduras and was an unused substitute for the decisive 3-1 win in the return leg in Sydney, where Australia sealed qualification for a fourth successive World Cup in front of an ecstatic crowd of 77,000 at the Olympic stadium.
“A lot of the lads who are here today were part of that, so we need to bring that to the players who weren’t there,” said Germany-based Irvine. “Every bit of the past experience can help us grow and contribute to what we’re going to be doing next week as well.”
There will only be a few dozen travelling fans and a smattering of Australian expats at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Monday but the Socceroos are used to playing in front of rows of empty seats in Doha.
They beat United Arab Emirates 2-1 in Asia’s World Cup playoff on Tuesday at the same stadium, and Jordan in a friendly by the same score at another Doha stadium last week. They also won both their “home” World Cup qualifiers in the Qatari capital last year while Australia’s borders were effectively shut due to Covid-19.
“Every experience is unique,” said Irvine, who scored the first goal in the win over the Emiratis. “It’s a very different environment but hopefully we’ll be there to deliver the same outcome.”
Graham Arnold’s team returned to training at Doha’s Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium on Thursday, but injured defender Trent Sainsbury (knee) did not participate in the session. Adam Taggart (thigh) did light duties as Australia got to use the official World Cup ball, called the Al Rihla, for the first time.
Striker Jamie Maclaren said despite the happiness at overcoming the UAE, celebrations had been kept to a minimum given the job he and his teammates came to Qatar to complete is only half-finished.
“You could say that was a semi-final and this is the cup final,” Maclaren told AAP. “We’ve got some big players who’ve stepped up in big moments and we’ve also got some players who have done really well.
“In terms of the other night the back four were superb. Maty Ryan stands up when we need him. Everyone’s having a role to play. Big moments, big games, and that’s what we want to play in. We’ve seen it as young kids growing up, watching the Socceroos do it, and now – it’s weird to say – but we’re in that moment now. It’s up to us … we’ve got this far and we look to go again.”
Maclaren was also part of Australia’s 2018 World Cup squad when Peru claimed a 2-0 group stage win over the Socceroos in Russia and the world No 22 side will be favourites for the clash. The 28-year-old is confident the Socceroos will not die wondering however.
“It’s massive, I don’t want to put too much stress on it because it’s just another game, but it is a game that is a must win. Let’s be honest,” he said. “It’s do-or-die, all-or-nothing, all these sort of quotes you want to say. It’s come down to 90 minutes against Peru and we know they’re a good team, but we’re also a good team. We can’t wait, we’ll get some bodies back also and we’ll go in there with a very strong squad.”