Asia's final qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ reaches the second-half of the campaign on Wednesday, with four pairs of contenders meeting up in their first return matches.
Notably, Group B's runaway leaders Japan travel to Oman determined to maintain their momentum with a fourth victory, while bottom side Iraq entertain Jordan in Doha desperately seeking their first win.
Elsewhere, Iran from Group A will be hopeful of moving to the section summit with a home triumph over Uzbekistan. Lebanon, meanwhile, challenge hosts Qatar buoyed by their recent good form in what is a crucial match for both teams. Join FIFA.com as we preview these enticing match-ups in detail.
Final qualifying round, matchday 5 fixtures: *14 November
*Group A: Iran-Uzbekistan, Qatar-Lebanon
Group B: Oman-Japan, Iraq-Jordan
The match *Oman-Japan
*The great rivalry between the two sides needs no introduction, with the encounter at Muscat marking their eighth qualifying meeting. Their first dates back to 1997, when an emerging Japan carved out four points over two legs en-route to sealing their maiden qualification for the global extravaganza at France 1998.
Samurai Blue maintained their dominance with two victories on the road to Germany 2006, before another four points added to their undefeated record against Oman and helped pave the way for South Africa 2010 qualification. Their latest meeting saw Alberto Zaccheroni's Japan again prevail with an emphatic 3-0 home win.
Revenge, understandably, will be on the Omanis mind as Paul Le Guen's hosts seek to move into second place with their first-ever defeat of Japan. The Red Warriors overcame Jordan 2-1 in the last qualifier, although they were edged out by Estonia by the identical scoreline in a recent warm-up.
Star goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi is expected to continue his recent form with Wigan Athletic, while the team's goalscoring task lies on the shoulders of Amad Al Hosni, who famously scored the only goal as they stunned Australia this time last year.
Taking heart from their proud head-to-head record, the visitors received a further boost heading into the game with a 1-0 friendly win against France, although they lost 4-0 to a rampaging Brazil lately.
If there is anything to cause Zaccheroni concerns, it must be the loss of Shinji Kagawa due to a knee injury. Nuremberg midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake is likely to fill the gap left by the Manchester United star, while CSKA Moscow playmaker Keisuke Honda remains the man to lead the team.
*The other attractions *In a match neither side can afford to lose, Iraq welcome Jordan for the fourth time in the campaign. With just two points from four outings, Zico's hosts are quickly facing a must-win scenario, and the under-pressure Brazilian could field a new-look line-up without stars such as Younis Mahmoud and Nashat Akram.
The Jordanians, under Iraqi Adnan Hamad, are inspired by the return of goalkeeper Amer Shafi and defender Basem Fathi, both of whom were suspended against for the 2-1 defeat against Oman. And with a second victory potentially taking them to second, the visitors won't easily let the chance slip away.
In-form Iran and Uzbekistan enter their second leg meeting with a shared aim of moving top with three points in Tehran. Level with leaders Korea Republic on seven points, a draw will be enough to move Carlos Queiroz's hosts to the summit. Mirdjalal Kasimov's visitors, though, face a must-win if they wish to target top spot.
Team Melli ran riot against Tajikistan in a pre-match friendly which they won 6-1, with Ali Karimi excelling by providing three assists. However, the Iran captain injured his hamstring and is ruled out for the Uzbekistan showdown. The White Wolves, meanwhile, arrive in Tehran with a full-strength line-up as they seek to avenge their 1-0 defeat in Tashkent.
Elsewhere, Lebanon coach Theo Bucker travels to Qatar keeping faith with the line-up skippered by Chinese-based Roda Antar, who scored the match-winning goal as they sealed a history-making win against Iran in the last outing. Sitting out the previous matchday with a bye, the Cedars flexed their muscles with a 2-1 defeat of Yemen.
Similarly, Qatar coach Paulo Autuori, showed unwavering belief in his squad despite losing to Uzbekistan 1-0 at home. And his faith paid dividends in the build-up with his side edging Iraq 2-1 in a friendly.
*Players to watch *In what coach Zaccheroni has predicted to be a largely defensive game by hosts Oman, Japan will look to make their most of set-piece specialists Yasuhito Endo and Keisuke Honda.
The stat 13 - Japan has edged Australia to boast Asia's highest quota of European-based players, with thirteen players from their current squad plying their trade in Europe.
What they said
"The game in Oman will be important for us. We are going to have three away matches in the latter half of the qualifiers, and it will be down to how many points we can collect in those away games," Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni