SYDNEY: Australia’s hopes of qualifying for next year’s World Cup have been dealt a blow after injury concerns forced skipper Mile Jedinak out of a 23-man squad to face Japan and Thailand in crunch qualifiers. Jedinak missed the Confederations Cup in June with a groin injury, and has yet to play for his English Championship club Aston Villa this season. Football Federation Australia (FFA) said on its website the 33-year-old was only now being eased back into action at Villa after battling injury woes over the past few months. The Socceroos are unbeaten but lie third on their Group B table with 16 points, behind Saudi Arabia on goal difference, with Japan top with 17 points.
This means Australia are one spot outside the automatic qualifying spots for the World Cup in Russia next year, with a win over the Blue Samurai crucial. Japan are due to face Saudi Arabia in Jeddah in their last group game. Coach Ange Postecoglou said he opted for experience for the games — against Japan in Saitama on August 31, and against Thailand in Melbourne on September 5 — with Awer Mabil and Danny Vukovic the only uncapped players. “I believe that the players that we have named today are ready for these two very important matches,” Postecoglou said. “Our focus is to get a positive result against Japan and then look to finish the group stage with a win on home soil in Melbourne against Thailand.” — AFP