Australia and Japan are looking to top their group with maximum points as they take on Qatar and Uzbekistan respectively in Asian FIFA World Cup™ qualifying on Wednesday.
In Group 2, United Arab Emirates, under new French coach Dominique Bathenay, know they must beat Korea Republic in Seoul to haul themselves back into contention, while Korea DPR have their work cut out against Iran in Tehran.
Australia, who beat Uzbekistan 1-0 in their opening qualifying match, have a pumped-up Tim Cahill back in the frame and desperate to cap his comeback with a goal at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium. The Everton star will be playing his first international in eight months, and coach Pim Verbeek needs him to be at his best, with the experienced Harry Kewell, Vince Grella and Mark Bresciano all missing through injury.
"I feel good. I'm training well and working hard," said Cahill, who along with captain Lucas Neill and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer forms the core of the Australian side. "I'll definitely be hounding for a goal on Wednesday night. This is what we live for. It gives me goosebumps."
Australia have already beaten Qatar twice this year, but the Gulf side, who have beaten the Uzbeks and drawn with Bahrain so far, now have Bruno Metsu at the helm after the Frenchman quit UAE earlier this month.
The experienced Metsu, who took Senegal to the 2002 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals, believes his team can shock favourites Australia as long as they stay cool. "," he said, referring to the team's 3-0 and 3-1 defeats by the Socceroos.
"We know Australia will have a lot of the ball. We must know in our minds that even though we might be under pressure for large parts of the game, we will get our chances if we keep calm and keep working hard. But football is full of uncertainties, and anything can happen."
Celtic's Shunsuke Nakamura and Eintracht Frankfurt's Junichi Inamoto spearhead Japan in their crucial game at Saitama against Uzbekistan. Takeshi Okada's men beat Bahrain 3-2 away in their opener, and are keen to maintain the momentum to keep the pressure on Australia and Qatar.
"Whatever we do, we have to beat Uzbekistan at home and that is why I have picked these players," said Okada. "The Uzbekistan game is our second match, but it doesn't matter whether we won or lost the game before it. We will just focus on the match in front of us and do whatever we have to do to win it."
The Uzbeks are in trouble after losing their first two qualifying games and consequently their coach, Mirdjalal Kasimov. They are hoping that returning boss Rauf Inlieyev can restore some order.
In Seoul, Korea Republic are likely to be without West Bromwich Albion midfielder Kim Do-Heon, who has a knee injury. His loss is a blow for coach Huh Jung-Moo, with Kim playing an influential role in their 1-1 draw with Korea DPR in last month's opening qualifier.
Like Uzbekistan, UAE have lost two out of two and are desperate to get some points on the board to put themselves back in the competition. New coach Bathenay has left the core of the squad unchanged, but will be without the suspended duo of Hilal Saeed and Subait Khater, while Adel Abdulaziz and Ahmed Mubarak are injury doubts.
Iran drew with Saudi Arabia in their only game so far, and with Korea DPR on four points, a home win for Ali Daei's side is seen as vital. But the match will not see the return of the legendary Ali Karimi, who was suspended from the national team in May after criticising the Iranian Football Federation.
Daei called Karimi up for the Korea game but the Persepolis striker, who has 109 caps, declined the invitation.
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