The final phase of Asian Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ reaches its midway point on Wednesday, when West Asia will stage all four of the matchday's games. With the campaign not resuming until 11 February 2009, the eight teams will be desperate to finish the year with victory. FIFA.com takes a closer look.
The rivals are two of three teams on four points from two outings in Group 2, and know victory would give a significant lift to their chances of a top-two finish. Huh Jung-Moo, coach of Korea Republic, will be eager to erase the memory of a 2-1 loss to a Saudi Arabia side guided by Nasser Al Johar eight years ago. The Sons of the Desert have been dominant in their encounters thereafter, including wins in both legs of Germany 2006 qualifying that cost Jo Bonfrere his job in the South Koreans' hot-seat.
Huh's hopes have been boosted by the return of veteran goalkeeper Lee Woon-Jae, who started Friday's warm-up friendly with career, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Al Johar, meanwhile, must do without the influential duo of captain Yasser Al Qahtani and defender Hussain Abdulghani, who are both injured, and the suspended Saad Al Harthi.
Japan will seek to arrest a discouraging statistic on their travels: they have yet to register a victory over Qatar, having lost two and drawn three of their five attempts. Coach Takeshi Okada is under pressure following a 1-1 draw at home to Uzbekistan, while his Qatari counterpart Bruno Metsu is also in desperate need of three points after his debut at the helm ended in a 4-0 defeat by Australia. Both sides are on four points, two behind Group 1 leaders Australia, although the Japanese have played a game less.
Having underlined their status as Asia's top seeds with two wins, Australia will be out to make it nine points from a possible nine in Bahrain. Brett Emerton, Mark Milligan and Scott McDonald have all been ruled out by injury, but Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek still has a talented cast at his disposal. Milan Macala's team, five points behind their visitors, know victory is imperative to their qualification chances.
United Arab Emirates have never beaten Iran. However, having failed to put a point on the board in their opening three games in Group 2, it is a nine-game run, one including seven losses, they need to bring to an abrupt halt to retain hope of reaching South Africa 2010. "It won't be an easy game for us as UAE have nothing to lose and will give it their all," said Ali Daei, whose Iran side will move on to an encouraging seven points from three matches if they triumph in Dubai.
"This is a World Cup qualifier and one of the most important games of our group, so everyone puts as much into this campaign as we can, because of what it means to our country. I'm always happy to play 90 minutes for Australia or Everton," Tim Cahill, Australia midfielder.