The Socceroos will host a match for the first time in nearly two years — and few players will be relishing the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd more than Jamie Maclaren.
Maclaren is one of four Australia-based players in the national squad along with Melbourne City teammates Mat Leckie and Andrew Nabbout, and Sydney FC fullback Rhyan Grant.
Due to Australia’s strict COVID-19 laws, Maclaren opted not to fly overseas for recent Socceroos matches because of the quarantine he would have to face after returning home each time. The only A-League players who featured were Grant, and Chris Ikonomidis.
“It’s great that we’ve come here with a nice camaraderie but at the same time it seems like we’ve not been away for a very long time,” Maclaren told WWOS Radio.
Maclaren said the logistics of quarantine and travelling to and from Australia were too much of a hurdle last time.
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“The decision was kind of taken out of our hands due to the quarantine and the fact that you risk injury coming back after sitting in a hotel for 14 days.
“If you did that twice that equals 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 on as the European-based players were allowed to fly in and out with relative ease.
“It was definitely a difficult one for us Aussie-based players, but we’re here now and we’re thankful that the government’s opened it up.”
This week, the NSW Government said that Western Sydney Stadium could be at 100 per cent capacity for the match, enabling a crowd of up to 30,000.
It’s a key match in a qualifying group in which only the top two will advance straight to the World Cup. Australia are currently in second place after four of the 10 qualification games, three points behind Saudi Arabia who have maintained a perfect record so far.
“It’s one of the biggest games the Socceroos have ever had, only because Saudi Arabia sit four from four and we really want to pin them back a bit and carry on our train,” Maclaren said.
The top two teams from each of the two groups of six will advance to Qatar 2022, while the third-placed team in each will have to go via the play-off route, as the Socceroos did for the 2018 tournament.
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