Australia is the reigning Asian champion but the Socceroos are not miles ahead of the continent’s other teams and certainly they are not worthy of fairly short odds to overcome Saudi Arabia in Jeddah on Thursday.
One is not arguing for one moment that Saudi Arabia is superior to Australia. The World Football Elo Ratings have Saudi Arabia in 68th position, 36 places and 165 points behind Australia. And the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking lists Saudi Arabia in 52nd position, seven places and 55 points behind Australia. What is arguing, however, is that the bookmaking fraternity is overrating Australia for its FIFA World Cup qualifying match away to Saudi Arabia.
Both Saudi Arabia and Australia have made perfect starts to the latest phase of their lengthy FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns. Saudi Arabia has scored late goals to get the better of Thailand 1-0 at home and Iraq 2-1 on the road. Remarkably, Nawaf Al Abid has netted each of Saudi Arabia’s three goals in its recent victories from the penalty mark. Australia has kicked off its FIFA World Cup qualifying group program with a 2-0 home win over Iraq and a 1-0 away defeat of the United Arab Emirates, the latter in which veteran star Tim Cahill scored four minutes after entering the fray.
Saudi Arabia’s home results in competitive matches is such that one thinks that several bookmakers, including BoyleSports and Paddy Power, are out of line in offering odds of +275 about the Green Falcons beating Australia. Saudi Arabia has won each of its last five meaningful home games and the Green Falcons are 12-2-1 in their last 15 such matches since losing 1-3 to Australia in September 2011. One is a huge admirer of Australia coach Ange Postecoglou but he does not have the same raw material at his disposal as his predecessor, Holger Osieck, who managed the Socceroos when they beat Saudi Arabia in Dammam five and a bit years ago.
Australia took out the 2015 AFC Asian Cup on home soil but, versus the region’s genuine talents, the Socceroos have had numerous mishaps. Last year, Australia lost 0-2 to Jordan in Amman in a result that was a fair reflection of the game. And in 2012, Australia lost 1-2 to Jordan in Amman three months after the Socceroos drew 0-0 with Oman in Muscat.
International football is more challenging to price up than the usual diet of club football but, even so, one was not expecting bookmakers to favour Australia so strongly over Saudi Arabia. One rates Australia as being a couple of notches better than Saudi Arabia so one thought that, with home advantage – and it is a significant one given Jeddah’s climate – the Green Falcons would be trading at odds around the +150 mark. Odds of +275 about a Saudi Arabia victory over Australia represent clear-cut value to one’s eyes.
Saudi Arabia to beat Australia
Thursday 6th October, 18:45 GMT
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