GROUP B SCENARIO
Four nations divided by just one point, jostling for two automatic qualification spots.
It could not be any tighter.
The undefeated Caltex Socceroos accounted for Iraq 2-0 in Perth on the opening night of this final round of qualifiers seven months ago.
This was followed by a 1-0 win in Abu Dhabi - one of the best results in recent times given the travel and heat.
But three consecutive draws: in Saudi Arabia, at home to Japan and in Bangkok - has stymied Australia’s progress somewhat.
To keep their slim hopes alive, the Lions of Mesopotamia - like Australia - simply have to win.
It all makes for edge-of-the-seat viewing on Thursday night.
AUSTRALIAN SQUAD NEWS
Despite being unbeaten in the group, coach Ange Postecoglou clearly had seen enough after those three draws and shook up his squad with a raft of changes for this game and the following one against UAE in Sydney next Tuesday night (March 28).
Postecoglou has veered away from having players who aren't performing regularly at club level, favouring more battle hardened selections and in-form talents.
Ange names 23-man squad for qualifiers
I like the look of this squad, with Danny Vukovic, Riley McGree, Musti Amini and Rhyan Grant giving the squad a shot of energy and desire (though Amini was a late arrival into Tehran due to his club commitments).
The squad has had its first, albeit light, session in Tehran on Monday.
In team news, Austrian-based midfielder Jimmy Jeggo's injury has opened the door for Nathan Burns to return to the squad after the Tokyo FC striker was left out of the final 23.
AFC has 4.5 spots in qualification for the next World Cup with top two in both AFC groups progressing.
Third place in each group is dragged into a continental showdown home and away with the winner moving into a home and away inter-continental playoff against a CONCACAF nation.
CURRENT WORLD RANKINGS
Iraq is a very proud football nation. It's produced big players and successful teams, having won the Asian Cup 10 years ago in the golden era of Younis Mahmoud and Co.
But being so far off the top four sides in the group means they have to win in Tehran to keep their dreams alive.
A loss and it's pretty much all over for this exciting but unpredictable Iraqi squad (who beat Iran in a friendly last Saturday, 1-0.)
For the Caltex Socceroos the scenario is simple: win to keep top two within their grasp.
Also on Thursday night, UAE host Japan and the Saudis are away in Bangkok. How the table looks on Friday morning will be fascinating.
In fact, a win in Tehran could potentially propel the Aussies to top of the group.
The qualification campaign is about to enter its most exciting phase, starting this Thursday night at the PAS Stadium in Tehran.
It’s time the dominating version of the Socceroos was unleashed. It's time for Ange's men to start winning games.
The Caltex Socceroos tackle UAE in a crucial World Cup Qualifier in Sydney on March 28. Click here for tickets.
This article was originally published at: http://www.socceroos.com.au/article/preview-iraq-v-caltex-socceroos/1i6jk520deauq1hv0z15ffxaju.