The Socceroos are hosting a match for the first time in almost two years – and few players will enjoy the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd other than Jamie Maclaren.
Maclaren is one of four locally based players in the squad along with City team-mates Mat Leckie and Andrew Nabbout, as well as Sydney FC defender Rhyan Grant.
“It’s great that we’ve come here with a good camaraderie, but at the same time it seems like we have not been away for a very long time,” he said on WWOS Radio.
Maclaren is back in the squad after missing the last batch of qualifications – the logistics of quarantine and travel to and from Australia proved to be too much of an obstacle.
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“The decision was somehow taken out of our hands, due to the quarantine and the fact that one risks getting injured after sitting in a hotel for 14 days.
“If you did it twice, it’s equivalent to 30 days – not good for your body and not good for yourself mentally.”
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Maclaren said it was “so hard” to watch as the European-based players were allowed to fly in and out with relative ease.
“It was certainly a difficult one for us Australian players, but we are here now and we are grateful that the government has opened it.”
This week, the NSW government said Western Sydney Stadium could have 100 per cent capacity for the match, enabling an audience of up to 30,000.
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It is a key match in a qualifying group where only the top two advance directly to the World Cup – Australia is currently in second place after four of the 10 qualifying matches, three points behind Saudi Arabia, which has maintained a perfect record so far.
“It’s one of the biggest matches the Socceroos have ever had, just because Saudi Arabia are sitting four from four and we really want to hold them back a bit and continue with our train,” Maclaren said.
The top two teams from each of the two groups of six advance to Qatar 2022, while the third-placed team in each must go through the play-off route, as the Socceroos did for the 2018 tournament.
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