Melbourne set to host vital Socceroos qualifier
MELBOURNE looks set to host the Socceroos' most important match in at least four years, the September 5 World Cup qualifier where their Russia 2018 fate will be decided.
AAMI Park is on the verge of being announced as the venue for the Socceroos v Thailand clash, which will be played just five days after Australia faces arch rival Japan away in the penultimate qualifier.
It is understood that Football Federation Australia is deep in negotiations with the Victorian government, which is believed to have increased its financial offer to lure the Socceroos in the past 10 days.
The AAMI Park move would break Sydney's stranglehold on key Socceroos qualifiers and be the first time Melbourne has hosted a live decider since the 2001 qualifier against Uruguay.
Speaking from Russia where the Socceroos face Cameroon in their next Confederations Cup clash on Friday morning (AEST), FFA chief executive David Gallop refused to give detail on AAMI Park specifically but admitted that a decision was close.
"We are continuing negotiations for this World Cup qualifier against Thailand, which will be one of the biggest in recent Socceroos history," Gallop said.
"There has been a lot of interest. Commercial considerations are important as are football ones, such as the need for a high-quality pitch and travel arrangements.
"We need to give the team the best possible opportunity to win and advance to a fourth consecutive World Cup."
The world-class AAMI Park is believed to be one of the strong preferences of coach Ange Postecoglou and his coaching staff due to a pristine pitch, logistics plus the atmosphere that the rectangular stadium would create.
While the deal is yet to be signed off, Socceroos staff have already started planning travel and logistics from Tokyo to Melbourne.
WA (nib Stadium) and Queensland (Suncorp Stadium) have also expressed interest in hosting the Thailand decider.
"There's no better place for the biggest games than Melbourne - we have the best quality pitches, greatest stadiums and most passionate fans," Minister for Tourism and Major Events John Eren said.
The Socceroos are currently third on goal difference from Saudi Arabia (16 points) and a point behind Japan. The Saudis are away to fourth-place United Arab Emirates in their next clash, with only the top two teams from each Asian group advancing automatically to the 2018 World Cup.
Sydney has hosted the decisive games in 2005 and 2013 while the MCG hosted Australia-Japan in the final qualifier for 2009 when Pim Verbeek's side had already secured qualification.