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South Africa

Heat on Socceroos in Doha

Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill has received a far from glowing endorsement from coach Holger Osieck on the eve of Australia's all-important World Cup qualifier against Iraq in Doha.

The heat is on Australia to deliver at Grand Hamad Stadium in Qatar on Tuesday evening (Wednesday 0115 AEDT) with the nation's World Cup destiny on the line.

Those needing a good result in the hot conditions include long-time national servant Neill and his boss Osieck, even if the German cut a relaxed figure this week.

Osieck warmly endorsed many of his players in a pre-match interview but chose his words carefully when quizzed about the importance of the match for Neill, who struggled in his last outing.

"I don't want to single out anybody," Osieck said.

"The game is equally as important for the goalkeeper to the guy on the left flank.

"It's not necessarily a link to one person.

"But I expect from him to be a leader, to show he's the captain of the team, that he leads by example and will push his teammates to good performances."

The comments followed Osieck earlier this month calling on his senior players to show more leadership.

If the Socceroos lose to world No.80 Iraq and Jordan defeat Oman on Tuesday, second-placed Jordan will open up a five-point gap on Australia with four matches to play.

Group leaders Japan, on 10 points from four matches and having defeated France 1-0 in Paris on Friday night, already look out of sight.

The top two sides from each group qualify for Brazil with the third-placed team forced to run the gauntlet against another Asian team and the fifth-placed South American team.

The prospect of a home-and-away tie against a South American side will revive more painful than happy memories for Australian fans.

On the flip side, a win over Iraq and the Socceroos will fancy their chances for a top-two spot with home matches against Oman, Jordan and Iraq next year.

One positive for Osieck has been the likes of youngsters Robbie Kruse, Tommy Oar, Adam Sarota and Nikita Rukavytsya all enjoying decent game time in top European leagues this season.

The sluggish progression of Australia's next generation has long been a cause of concern and Osieck will be hoping they step up.

After last month's 2-1 loss to Jordan, Australia simplified their preparations.

They ditched a warm-up game against the United Arab Emirates and allowed the players to freshen up with a week at Doha's state-of-the-art Sports City.

Having threatened to make a number of changes, Osieck is expected to only tinker with the starting lineup.

Matthew Spiranovic is set to replace the injured Sasa Ognenovski in central defence with midfielder Carl Valeri coming in for clubless defender David Carney.

Matt McKay will shift to left back with Osieck still searching for a long-term solution to the troublesome position.

There is a chance of Mile Jedinak joining Valeri in the midfield with Mark Bresciano coming off the bench.

In the past two qualifiers, injuries have restricted the former Serie A player to less than an hour on the pitch in total despite starting on both occasions.

Against a tiring Iraq defence, Bresciano's passing skills could prove decisive late in the match.

At Monday's pre-match press conference, Neill said: "I don't think it is any more pressurised than any other game, it is no more special because they are all special."


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