ASEAN sides are aiming to make more of an impact than four years ago as Asia's second qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ reaches its decisive second leg on Thursday.
In qualifying for South Africa 2010 only Thailand and Singapore progressed into the third stage representing the South-East Asian region. This time around, however, it looks likely that they will have their presence more strongly felt. With either Malaysia or Singapore to advance, Thailand travel to Palestine with a 1-0 lead while Indonesia return home with the away-goal advantage they accrued in Turkmenistan. Having won their first legs at home, the ten higher ranked West Asian winners are expected to round off the campaign in perfect fashion. While a place in the next stage should be within the grasp of the majority, Syria must remain wary of the resilient Tajikistan who boast an away goal despite losing the opening leg 2-1. With these games and many others in store, FIFA.com runs the rule over the enticing match-ups ahead.
The two sides are among the closest rivals of the fifteen pairings, with Indonesia ranked just eleven places above Turkmenistan. Their first-leg outcome didn't suggest otherwise, with midfielder Muhammad Ilham striking on the hour-mark to cancel out Vyacheslav Krendelev's opener to seal a 1-1 draw in Ashgabat. The result leaves them tied in their qualifying head-to-head record, having each boasted a 3-1 home win on the road to Germany 2006. The winning side in the return game will not only book their place in the next stage but also tilt the balance in their favour.
The start to the tie marked a positive beginning for Indonesia's new boss Wilhelmus Rijsbergen, who replaced Austrian Alfred Riedl a week prior to Saturday's first leg. Now playing on home soil, the ASEAN side can capitalise on the away goal and progress to the third stage for the first time with just a goalless draw. Coach Yazguly Hojageldiyev's charges, though, can take heart from their performance four years ago, where victory saw them storm into the third phase. Ultimately they finished with the wooden spoon behind the likes of Korea Republic, Korea DPR and Jordan.
The other head-line grabbers
Still lamenting the numerous chances they squandered against Palestine, Thailand's new German coach Winfried Schafer admitted the away game will be tough. Despite their one-goal cushion, his outfit will have to overcome the fatigue of travel, the fervent home supporters and a determined Palestinian team in Al Ram, where the two sides will compete on an artificial pitch. Still, the Land of Smiles possess the pedigree and experience to break into the third round for the second successive time if they can maintain their performance level.
The 5-3 first-leg defeat in Singapore leaves Malaysia still in a desperate search for their first win over their neighbours since 2004. The two-goal advantage, allied with their unbeaten record over the recent years, provides the Lions with a clear mental edge going into the away fixture. However, they must remain wary of the Malayan Tigers' impressive form on home soil – they crushed Indonesia 3-0 in last December's AFF Championship final before going on to lift the trophy 4-1 on aggregate.
Another close tie worth mentioning is Tajikistan versus Syria, whose 2-1 home victory extended their winning tally against the Central Asians to four. In their previous qualifying attempt the West Asians made it through to the third stage after thrashing Indonesia 11-1 on aggregate, and despite the narrow lead they are still very much the team to beat.
Elsewhere, India's hopes of their first trip to the third round were dealt a double blow in their 3-0 defeat by United Arab Emirates. Facing an uphill task in the home match, they must make do with the suspension of defender Debabrata Roy and goalkeeper Subrata Pal, who were both sent off as they stumbled in the first leg.
With few realistic hopes to overcome their significant first-leg deficits, both Nepal and Laos are left with only pride to play for when they entertain Jordan and China respectively. This can also be said of the likes of Hong Kong, Philippines and Vietnam who, having lost the first legs by the identical 3-0 scoreline, will look to show a sign of their progress.
Player to watch
Vietnam’s Le Cong Vinh may lead the qualifying scoring-chart with 7 goals, but the second leg provides China's Yang Xu (three goals) with a chance to close the gap.
What they said
"Thailand is a good team. We did not start well but we are pleased that we lost only 1-0. I still believe that we will beat Thailand and qualify for the next round." Palestine coach Moussa Bezaz
Asia's second qualifying round (second leg) fixtures:
Palestine - Thailand
Bangladesh - Lebanon
Laos - China
Indonesia - Turkmenistan
Philippines - Kuwait
Myanmar - Oman
Hong Kong - Saudi Arabia
Maldives - Iran
Tajikistan - Syria
Vietnam - Qatar
Yemen - Iraq
Malaysia - Singapore
Kyrgyzstan - Uzbekistan
India - United Arab Emirates
Nepal - Jordan