IF the Socceroos had any remaining doubts about the critical nature of the next 10 days, Mark Milligan has outlined in stark terms why Australia needs to "get the dominance back" against Iraq and the UAE in back to back World Cup qualifiers.
Kicking off a year that will determine his side's World Cup fate, and pitch them against the likes of Germany, Brazil and Chile, the midfielder said the clash with Iraq in Tehran on Thursday offers the ideal opportunity to make a statement about Australia's determination to meet those challenges head on.
In the wake of three consecutive draws on the World Cup campaign, Ange Postecoglou's side sits third in its group, below the top two spots that offer an automatic place at the World Cup in Russia next year.
Two of those draws, with Saudi Arabia and Thailand, came from performances well below the par set earlier in the qualifying cycle.
"We want to start well, it's a big year in terms of qualification and the Confederations Cup," Milligan said.
"I think we want to set the tone early on, and get back to playing the kind of football we know we can.
"This game against Iraq is a good place to start, set us in good stead for the rest of the year. After our last few results the focus will be on our own performance.
"The mentality and the attitude is the same wherever we are - in the past when we've come off indifferent results we've always bounced back strongly.
"We'll be looking to get that dominance back in games.
"In recent games, while we've been dominant, it hasn't been to our normal standards, the complete dominance we had early on in the campaign.
" If we can do that in this game, then going home against the UAE (in Sydney on March 28) we'll have a lot of confidence."
Involvement in those games will also be important for Milligan on a personal level, with his contract at UAE side Baniyas expiring in June, and a move almost certain as he seeks the best footballing home to ensure his involvement in the national side leading into the World Cup.
"It's the first time in a long time I'm coming off contract and will be a free agent," he said.
"There were a few (options) in January that got quickly put to bed by my club. So I'm in no real hurry to make a decision - this year is very important, the season leading into the World Cup.
"I want to see what comes and what fits best for me. There's a lot of games for the Socceroos that hopefully I'm going to be involved in, and if so that'll make the club situation a bit easier.
"I've not had anything from the A-League.
"It would be an option, Ange is always watching it so it wouldn't harm me in any way to be there in the lead up to the World Cup.
"Last time it wasn't an easy decision to come home and the only reason I did was because Ange was at (Melbourne) Victory, and he asked me. It'll take something similar this time.
"Europe is (still an aim) but it's very difficult because I've not played there already.
"With a lot of teams we sort of get into the discussion and that comes up, it's still a bit of a punt from their point of view bringing in a 31-year-old who hasn't played there before."
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