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news, preview, Australia back on home soil for first time since 2019

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Mathew Leckie feels he owes the Socceroos a commanding performance against Saudi Arabia on Thursday night.

Having elected not to travel overseas for Australia’s four World Cup qualifiers in September and October due to quarantine requirements that would have been forced on him, Leckie is desperate to repay the ongoing faith shown in him by Socceroos coach Graham Arnold.

“I always want to be there and for many years now I’ve barely missed camps, so it was a tough decision but sitting there and supporting the boys, I was proud of the way we played,” the 30-year-old Melbourne City attacker said.

“The boys have put us in a really good position in the qualification. Although I wasn’t there, I could see how everyone was out there, and the mentality, I can just imagine how it would have been in the camp.

“That’s in the past now. I’m just happy to be back, and I’m just buzzing for the game.

“I feel in great shape. I’ve had a long time to be able to get myself ready.”

Saudi Arabia tops Group B in the third round of AFC World Cup qualifiers with a perfect record of 12 points from four matches.

The Socceroos are three points adrift of the Saudis, with the top two teams from Groups A and B to automatically qualify for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.

“It’s a very important game, no question,” said Leckie, who has made 65 appearances in a Socceroos career dating back to 2012.

“Sometimes regardless of how you feel physically, it’s more a mental thing.”

Arnold said the Saudis were in good form but promised the Socceroos would “get in their faces” at Sydney’s CommBank Stadium, where the Australians will play for the first time at home since October 2019.

“I expect our mentality to be … making sure we’re on the front foot right from the start and not giving them any time to play,” the Socceroos mentor said.

“It will be great to have our 12th man (the fans) here, but the focus is on our performance and making sure the game plan is right.

“We’ve worked extremely hard to get the principles in place to play right over the last few years. It’s about one game at a time and (getting) the three points.”

Without key playmakers Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy, Arnold predicted a big performance from Germany-based Ajdin Hrustic, despite reports he is battling an injury.

“He’s 100 per cent – otherwise he wouldn’t have come,” Arnold said.

“I expect him to show the Australian fans what he’s about. He’s in great shape.

“In the conversations I’ve had with him he’s ready to go.”

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – AFC Asian Qualifiers (third round)

Australia v Saudi Arabia

Thursday, 8.10pm (AEDT)

CommBank Stadium, Parramatta

TV: Live on Network 10

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