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 at 9 pm on Monday, meaning fans in Australia will need to rise on Tuesday morning to catch the game on screens at 4 am AEST.
“It seems like a lifetime ago, but at 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. He 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 experience can help us grow and contribute to what we will be doing next week.”
There will only be a few dozen traveling fans and a smattering of Australian ex-pats at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Monday; still, the Socceroos are used to playing in front of rows of empty seats in Doha.
They beat the 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. The previous year, they also won their “home” World Cup qualifiers in the Qatari capital 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. Adam Taggart (thigh) did light duties as Australia used 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 well.
“In terms of the other night, the back four were superb. Maty Ryan stands up when we need him. Everyone has 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 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 favorites 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 must-win. Let’s be honest,” he said. “It’s do-or-die, all-or-nothing, all these 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 and go in there with a strong squad.”