Socceroos to face familiar foes en route to 2026 WC

Joanna Guelas |

The Socceroos have drawn some familiar opposition in the next round of World Cup qualifying.
The Socceroos have drawn some familiar opposition in the next round of World Cup qualifying.

The Socceroos must once again face Asia’s top-ranked side Japan on the road to reaching a sixth successive FIFA World Cup in 2026.

Australia will also take on Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, China and Indonesia after being drawn in Group C for the next phase of qualifying. 

The draw was made at the Asian Football Confederation headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, with Australia set to host their first match against Bahrain on September 5.

Defeating rivals Japan will be no easy feat for Graham Arnold’s men, who must finish in the top two of their six-team pool to automatically qualify for the 2026 finals.

The teams who finish third and fourth following the home and away fixtures from September to June next year will be thrust into another group stage.

Japan condemned the Socceroos to that fate for the 2022 tournament after scoring late to secure a 2-0 win in their previous meeting.

Celebrating Japan players.
Japan players celebrate defeating the Socceroos at Saitama Stadium in 2021. (AP PHOTO)

The last time Australia tasted victory against the four-time Asian champions was in 2009.

Arnold remains bullish about a top-two finish, backing the quality of his current squad.

“Our sole focus is to qualify directly by this time next year,” Arnold said.

“We knew this round of qualifying would present challenges however the draw panned out.

“I feel it’s important we embrace those challenges. With our mindset, belief and camaraderie integral to achieve our goal of qualification.

“I can’t speak highly enough of this playing group and their commitment during the campaign so far, and I’ve got no doubt they will bring more of the same.”

Saudi Arabia have also got the better of the Socceroos in recent match-ups, clinching a 1-0 victory in 2022’s third Asian qualifying round.

Australia cruised through this second qualifying round with six wins from as many matches, beating Palestine 5-0 in Perth earlier this month to wrap up the phase.

The 2026 tournament will be co-hosted by Canada, the USA and Mexico and expands from 32 teams to 48 for the first time.


Group A – Iran, Qatar, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Kygryzstan, North Korea

Group B – South Korea, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Palestine, Kuwait

Group C – Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, China, Indonesia.