Frontrunners Japan and Korea Republic are seeking to close in upon early progression to the 2012 Men's Olympic Football Tournament as Asia’s final qualifying round enters Matchday 4 on Sunday. Wins will put the east Asian duo within touching distance of qualification while, elsewhere, Uzbekistan can further cement their place at the top of their section should they prevail in a crucial match against Australia.
At the other end of the spectrum, pointless Malaysia stare at elimination while Saudi Arabia face a must-win scenario if they are to keep their slim hopes alive. Join FIFA.com as we take a closer look at these decisive match-ups.
Saudi Arabia-Korea Republic
The two sides enter Group A's top-versus-bottom meeting in contrasting form, with Hong Myung-Bo's Korea Republic seeking their ninth Olympic appearance while hosts' Saudi Arabia are left with few options but to win. A solitary-goal home win from the first leg in Seoul provides the Taeguk Warriors with the mental edge and the visitors had their confidence further bolstered after prevailing in the recent King's Cup, where they finished ahead of a Denmark League XI, Norway and a full-strength Thailand senior team. Coach Hong boasts a series of promising stars at his disposal, including the emerging Yoon Bit-Garam and in-form strikers Kim Hyun-Sung.
Languishing at the bottom with a point so far, Rogerio Morais's side must enhance their potency up front having racked up just one goal in four outings. Although the Sons of Deserts can look to home support, their recent form speaks for itself, having lost to United Arab Emirates 2-1 in a friendly last Thursday. The group's other game pits Qatar against second-placed Oman, who unexpectedly had their hopes rejuvenated having recently been awarded a 3-0 win - following an initial 1-1 draw - due to the Qataris' fielding an ineligible player.
The other attractions
Sitting third in Group B, the hopes of Barcelona 1992 semi-finalists Australia, as they seek an eighth Olympic qualification, are hanging by a whisker. Indeed, Aurelio Vidmar's Olyroos face an uphill task against leaders and hosts Uzbekistan, who stole a point in the two sides' previous match. The Aussies have yet to find the net as they came up with three consecutive goalless draws. To end his side's goal-drought, Vidmar has called upon Young Socceroo forward Kerem Bulut, whose powerful presence could kick-start the misfiring team.
In the section's other match, strugglers United Arab Emirates are looking to bounce back to defeat Iraq at home despite losing 2-0 away previously. The hosts enter the contest on the back of a series of warm-up victories, including a 5-0 thrashing of Saudi club Modhar and a 3-1 defeat of their Bahraini counterparts.
Having dominated Group C with three successive wins, it looks a straightforward task for Japan against second-placed Syria, who have changed venue to the Jordanian capital of Amman due to domestic turmoil. However, coach Takashi Sekizuka is shrewd enough not to understate the opponents, calling upon two senior national players Hiroshi Kiyotake and Kazuya Yamamura to reinforce the side. The Japanese may have showed their prolific form in a recent 3-0 friendly defeat of Iraq but the Syrians, who narrowly lost the previous meeting 2-1, have proved capable of causing a major upset.
Player to watch
Trailing behind Korea Republic by a point, a victory in Doha is likely to keep Oman well-placed in the battle for the section's qualifying spot. The goalscoring task lies on the shoulders of 21-year-old Hussain Al Hadhri, who has announced his emergence on the continental scene with several decisive goals so far.
4 - Group B has proved the most closely contested, with all the six matches yielding just four goals. With only three points separating the four sides, the section is still wide open.
What they said
“We've already faced a team from the Middle East as we drew with Qatar. Against the Saudis, we don't have specific approach to the match but basically we'll carry on what we've been doing, playing consistently throughout 90 minutes so we can control the game,” Korea Republic coach Hong Myung-Bo
Matchday 4 fixtures
Sunday, 5 February
Group A: Qatar-Oman, Saudi Arabia-Korea Republic
Group B: Iraq-United Arab Emirates, Australia-Uzbekistan
Group C: Syria-Japan, Bahrain-Malaysia