The Caltex Socceroos’ road to Qatar 2022 is likely to be a long and winding one, featuring intense heat, humidity, altitude and countless air miles.
Having received a bye through their first round of Asian Football Confederation qualifying for FIFA World Cup 2022, Graham Arnold’s side know now the route they must take to continue their journey.
ROAD TO QATAR: Australia to face Jordan, Chinese Taipei, Kuwait, and Nepal
FIXTURES BREAKDOWN: All upcoming FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Caltex Socceroos
EVERYTHING TO KNOW: How Caltex Socceroos qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup
The second round of AFC qualifying sees eight groups of five teams battle out for 12 golden tickets to the next stage: eight to the group winners, four to the best runners-up. The third and final round holds the key to the promised land of the FIFA World Cup 2022.
But before the Caltex Socceroos can even think about reaching their ultimate destination, they must navigate their way past the first major barrier.
Jordan, Kuwait, Chinese Taipei and Nepal stand in their path. Here is where Graham Arnold’s GPS is likely to be leading his Caltex Socceroos.
The Caltex Socceroos' Group B opener in September 2019 takes us to face a familiar foe, possibly in a familiar venue.
The 18,500-seater Al Kuwait Kaifan Sports Club Stadium was the location where it all began for Graham Arnold and his coaching team back in October 2018.
The Caltex Socceroos downed the Blue Wave 4-0 thanks to an own goal from Khalid El Ebrahim and strikes from Apostolos Giannou, Tom Rogic and Awer Mabil.
The Persian Gulf state, which is seven hours behind Australia, also plays international matches at the much larger 65,000-seater Jaber al-Ahmad International Stadium, some 10km further south in the Ardiya district of Kuwait City.
September is the middle of Kuwait’s dry and hot season with temperatures averaging at 43 degree high and 28 degree low, so expect the Caltex Socceroos to be sweltering out in the Middle East.
The Caltex Socceroos will need to race to the airport and jet out to the island 180km off the shore of mainland China to play their third Group B match against Chinese Taipei some five days (to be confirmed) after a home tie against Nepal.
With the island entering autumn in October and its timezone only two hours back from AEST, the short turnaround should not have a huge impact on the Australian party disembarking from the 9-10 hour flight north, although humidity can average in the 70%-80% region at that time of year.
Chinese Taipei play most of their internationals at the National Stadium in Kaohsiung, in the south of the island, which was built for the 2009 World Games and holds 55,000.
The team managed by former Arsenal Ladies’ coach, Englishman Louis Lancaster, have also ran out at the 20,000-capacity Taipei Municipal Stadium in Taipei City, which is in the far north, but still only 350km away from Kaohsiung City.
The Caltex Socceroos' fourth match of Group B takes them back to the Middle East in November, but this time on the western side, to the desert landscapes of Jordan.
The ancient city of Amman plays host to the national team, either in the 18,000-capacity Amman International Stadium — where the Westfield Matildas faced Japan in the AFC Women's Asian Cup Final 2018 — or the multi-purpose King Abdullah II Stadium, which can entertain 13,000.
Amman lies less than 200km east of the River Jordan, which acts as the border to Israel, and the City of Stairs was originally built upon seven hills, lying at an elevation of 700m to 1,100m.
Temperatures only tend to reach an average high of 24 degrees, with a low of 14, and the city of Amman averages five days of rainfall in November, so the Caltex Socceroos should be in more comfortable conditions against Belgian head coach Vital Borkelmans’ team.
After the Caltex Socceroos host Kuwait in their fifth Group B match, Arnold’s side face a short turnaround and a trek to the Himalayas in March 2020.
Home of the world’s largest mountain, Mount Everest, Nepal is not known as a football powerhouse but Swedish coach Johan Kalin’s side do enjoy a climate that can hand them a home advantage.
With only a five-day gap (TBC) between fixtures, Australia will need to adapt quickly to play at Dasarath Rangasala Stadium in Kathmandu, a venue which had to be repaired after damage sustained in the April 2015 Nepal earthquake.
The 30,000-capacity ground is nestled between the Himalayan peaks, and Australia’s players will need to cope with the change in air pressure that comes with playing at 1,400m above sea level.
Temperatures average a pleasant high of 26 degrees in March, but drop to around five degrees at night, while Nepal is four hours and 15 minutes behind AEST.
The Caltex Socceroos return home to close out the group in June 2020 with home clashes against Chinese Taipei and Jordan.
Caltex Socceroos’ FIFA World Cup qualifying schedule (*likely dates)
September 2019 - FIFA Window: 2-10 September
- Thursday 5th September - bye
- Tuesday 10th September – Kuwait v Caltex Socceroos
October 2019 - FIFA window 7-15 October
- Thursday 10th October – Caltex Socceroos v Nepal
- Tuesday 15th October – Chinese Taipei v Caltex Socceroos
November 2019 - FIFA Window: 11-19 November
- Thursday 14th November – Jordan v Caltex Socceroos
- Tuesday 19th November – bye
March 2020 - FIFA Window: 23-31 March
- Thursday 26th March – Caltex Socceroos v Kuwait
- Tuesday 31st March – Nepal v Caltex Socceroos
June 2020 - FIFA Window: 1 June-12 July
- Thursday 4th June – Caltex Socceroos v Chinese Taipei
- Tuesday 9th June – Caltex Socceroos v Jordan
All kick-off times and venues are to yet to be confirmed. Match schedule is based off current FIFA calendar and AFC competition scheduling.