Qatar and Uzbekistan will be chasing a cherished common dream on Saturday when they clash in their first match of the final Asian qualifying phase for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Neither team has reached the FIFA World Cup finals and are desperate to make amends for several years of frustration despite the ominous presence of Australia and Japan in their group, the two teams hugely favoured to clinch two of the four automatic spots from Asia.
Uzbekistan have reached the final stage of qualification for the three past FIFA World Cups only to choke at crucial moments, but this time are riding a wave of confidence having progressed to the decisive ten-team, two-group fourth phase with plenty to spare.
"Australia and Japan are the two big favourites, and Qatar and Bahrain will also be not too easy to beat," said team manager Vadim Abramov. "But we haven't come this far just to make up the numbers. ."
Coached by Rauf Inileyev, Uzbekistan sailed through in the previous round with two games to spare, even thrashing Asian giants Saudi Arabia 3-0 on the way. "The emphatic win over the Saudis was a morale booster for us. It gives us the confidence to raise our game against the top teams," Abramov said.
The Qataris, meanwhile, are hoping that their massive home advantage will help them tide over the confident Uzbeks. With the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan underway, the match will be played at 10 p.m., when conditions could be hot and humid, something the Uzbeks are not used to.
However, Qatar's Uruguayan coach Jorge Fossati is banking mostly on the local fans' lung power, the importance of which he has time and again stressed. "The fans are our biggest advantage," Fossati said. "I appeal to the Qatari supporters to fill the stadium in large numbers."
Fossati's team scored creditable victories over Iraq and China in the previous phase to qualify for the final round, their only two defeats coming against the Australians. Qatar flew plane-loads of spectators in to Dubai for their clash against Iraq, which they won to put their campaign back on track after initial reverses.
Like the Uzbeks, the Qataris are hoping to finish second behind the Aussies. "We have to collect all the 12 points available from our home matches," Fossati said. "Then we will aim to snatch as many points as possible from our away games."
The Qatar team had a training camp in Spain preparing for the matches and defeated Korea DPR in a friendly international, before losing to Saudi Arabia in another friendly last Friday. Fossati, however, is not reading too much into the results. "Friendly games are just good for preparation," he said.
Fossati also insisted Qatar had enough bench strength to cope with the injuries to four key players - Wisam Rizq, Hussain Yasser, Musa al-Hamad and Yousef Ahmed. "I know these players are important, and I was really hoping they would play, but as the coach of the team I have to deal will such situations as and when they arise."
Qatar last came close to qualifying in 1998, but were beaten 1-0 in their decisive last match against Saudi Arabia who made it to France.
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