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Soccer: Australia's AFC World Cup qualifying campaign

Australia's bid to reach the 2026 FIFA World Cup will officially begin in November after their opponents for the second round were revealed.

The Socceroos' first objective will be to have a successful Asian Cup campaign in January, but coach Graham Arnold and his players will also have one eye on the World Cup, which will be held in North America.

Australia can be backed at 501.00 to win the World Cup, but first of all they have to make sure they qualify, and they face some tricky game in the second round.

The Socceroos have friendlies against Mexico, England and New Zealand before the second round begins, so should be well prepared.

Second-round opponents

The draw for the second round of AFC qualifying has taken place and the Socceroos know who their opponents will be.

Graham Arnold’s men have been drawn in Group I and will be up against Palestine and Lebanon, along with the winner of the first qualifying match.

That will see the Maldives and Bangladesh go head-to-head over two legs for the right to join Australia, Palestine and Lebanon in the group.

Australia will have to wait until October to see who will make up the group, but at least they can start putting some firm plans in place for their preparation.

The format

Australia were given automatic qualification into the second round due to them being the third highest ranked Asian side in the FIFA world rankings.

But from now on they will have to get the job done on the pitch, and the first job will be to make it through Group I.

The top two sides from the group will then move on to the third and final round of qualifying.

The 18 teams that make it through will be divided into three groups of six. The top two from each group will gain automatic qualification to the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Another two nations will get the chance to book their spot via another round of qualifying, while a ninth Asian side will have to go the long way.

That will involve advancing through a fifth round and then playing an intercontinental play-off.

Second-round fixtures

The Socceroos first fixture in Group I will see them entertain the winner of Maldives versus Bangladesh on 16th November.

Next up is a tricky trip to Palestine on Tuesday 21st November, before the Socceroos break off to play in the Asian Cup.

World Cup qualifying will then resume in March with a double-header against Lebanon on 21st and 26th.

The second round will be concluded in June with a game against Maldives or Bangladesh on 6th, and then a home game against Palestine on 11th.

Previous meetings

The Socceroos have a good record against the teams in Group I, having beaten them all with ease.

However, Arnold admits the trips to Palestine and Lebanon will be tough, particularly because of the hostile atmosphere they may face.

Australia beat Palestine 3-0 in the group stage of the 2019 Asian Cup, while they also beat Lebanon 3-0 in Sydney in 2018.

The Socceroos have played Bangladesh just once previously and smashed them 5-0 in 2018.

They have yet to play the Maldives, and it remains to be seen if they will get the chance in Group I.

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