All eyes will be on Australia and Japan on Saturday with the two favorites from Group A on the verge of booking qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ with two matches to spare. Despite being denied a berth in South Africa by virtue of Bahrain's 1-0 win over Qatar in the last round, the Aussies enter their sixth group match needing just a single point in Qatar to seal their second consecutive appearance at the global extravaganza.
Similarly Japan have their destiny in their own hands and travel to Uzbekistan in the knowledge that three points in Tashkent will secure their passage. Moreover, the East Asians would claim the honour of being the first team to join hosts South Africa at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, with their match commencing a couple of hours earlier than the fixture in Doha.
Elsewhere, Group B leaders Korea Republic will be hoping that the United Arab Emirates offer modest resistance, with the hosts having little to play for but pride. In the other group match, the second-placed Korea DPR face the daunting task of holding a defiant Iran team, and a nation they have never defeated in 14 previous encounters.
The big match
Uzbekistan - Japan, Tashkent
Coach Takeshi Okada's charges are in fine form going into the encounter against the hosts, having thrashed Chile and Belgium by the same 4-0 scoreline to win the recent Kirin Cup. Added to that, the Japanese boast a proud record against the Central Asians, with four wins and two draws in their six meetings to date. The Uzbeks, who will be desperate to claim points to stay in touch with third-placed Bahrain, must do without the services of the talismanic Maksim Shatskikh who was sensationally omitted from the squad by coach Mirdjalal Kasimov.
The other headliner
Qatar - Australia, Doha
Australian fans should be forgiven for drawing up celebrations plans ahead of their fixture against Qatar, a side who have appeared extremely vulnerable to their physical strengths and organized play in three matches over the past 18 months. Coach Pim Verbeek's side have won all three encounters, firing an impressive ten goals past the West Asians. The Australian side are virtually at full strength while Bruno Metsu's line-up will have a number of absentees due to injury.
Korea DPR - Iran, Pyongyang
Iran travel to Pyongyang in confident mood, having emerged victorious against Korea DPR in all three previous FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Languishing in fourth place with only six points, coach Afshin Ghotbi is left with few options but to go after maximum points. To enhance the team's firepower, Ghotbi has recalled dynamo Ali Karimi to add goalscoring prowess to the midfield. However a 1-0 loss to China earlier this week suggests their finishing will prove key if the Iranians are to win this crucial match against the parsimonious Koreans.
United Arab Emirates - Korea Republic, Dubai
With two tough games against Saudi Arabia and Iran later in the month, the away match against the eliminated United Arab Emirates provides Korea Republic with a golden opportunity to further strengthen their grip at the head of the group. Coach Huh Jung-Moo's outfit travels to Dubai with a clear mental edge having inflicted a 4-1 defeat on the UAE in their first encounter last year. However, the home side have shown strong form at home, as demonstrated when they held Iran to a 1-1 draw before narrowly losing to Saudi Arabia in the last fixture.
Player to watch
Despite boasting one of Asia's most creative midfields, a proven goalscorer is still missing for Japan. The emergence of Shinji Okazaki, however, provides the team with much-needed cutting edge in the penalty area. Since debuting in a friendly against the United Arab Emirates last October, the diminutive striker has thrived on the international stage, scoring six times in only eleven appearances.
"Despite the big wins, our brilliant performance at the Kirin Cup won't guarantee us anything against Uzbekistan. We need to refresh our minds for the away game and do our best to come home with a victory," Takeshi Okada, Japan head coach.