MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 11: Australian and Japan players line up during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between the Australian Socceroos and Japan at Etihad Stadium on October 11, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

WCQ: Socceroos v Japan Preview

The equation is simple for both Australia and Japan. A win means they can book their tickets to the big dance in Russia.

Following Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 loss to the UAE, the Socceroos are third in the group, equal on points with the second placed Saudis but behind on goal difference. Both teams are one point behind Japan.

But it won’t be easy. The odds well and truly stacked against the Australians.

The Blue Samurai have an exceptional record in Saitama, having only lost there once and drawn three times in 23 World Cup qualifying matches at the venue.

Further tipping the scales in their favour is the remarkable fact that they have not lost to Australia since 2009.

But Japan have been far from impressive in this qualifying campaign and the pressure is beginning to grow on manager Vahid Halilhodzic.

A 2-1 loss to the UAE in their first group match, a draw against Iraq in their last match and an unattractive, uninspiring 1-1 draw to Australia at Etihad Stadium in October last year have been unacceptable for an expectant fan-base.

In front of their almost 60,000 fans, Japan must come out firing and secure World Cup qualification at the first possible opportunity.

Anything less than a victory would be a disaster as they would have to travel away to play an equally determined Saudi Arabia squad in their final group match.

The Socceroos, meanwhile, have begun to turn around their own stuttering qualifying campaign.

Despite being the only undefeated team left in the group, the Socceroos are only in third place as four consecutive draws slowed their momentum.

The 2-2 draw away to the 130th ranked Thailand stands out as the Socceroos’ worst performance under coach Ange Postecoglou.

The poor results forced Postecoglou to experiment with an unorthodox three-defender system.

Despite some hiccups and yet more poor results, his persistence with the radical system is finally producing results.

The players are finally looking comfortable with the system, highlighted by victories over the UAE and Saudi Arabia, before an impressive but unsuccessful Confederations Cup campaign.

In team news, Adam Federici has replaced Mitch Langerak in the Socceroos squad as the latter tries to complete his move to Levante in the Spanish La Liga.

Whatever happens on Thursday night will undoubtedly have major implications on the eventual make-up of the group and which teams will be showered in World Cup riches.

Having already secured at least a playoff berth, a win for Japan will guarantee automatic qualification.

A draw or loss for the Blue Samurai would mean they need only a draw from their final game against the Saudis to ensure automatic qualification.

For Australia, a win would also guarantee qualification.

A draw would mean Australia must win their final game to guarantee their place in Russia, but can also qualify if Saudi Arabia fail to beat Japan next week.

A loss would put automatic qualification out of their hands.

These are arguably the two strongest teams in the group, but their qualifying form suggests they are unbecoming of a World Cup berth.

With fewer than 12 months to go until the World Cup begins in Moscow, should both teams qualify, they will need major improvements to be competitive.

World Cups are a collection of the 32 best football nations in the world, and if these teams struggle to beat minnows from their confederation, they stand little chance in next year’s footballing spectacle.

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