With Japan, Uzbekistan and Jordan sealing early progression in Asia’s third qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ last Friday, six more teams are hoping to join the already-qualified trio in the next round by the end of the penultimate matchday on Tuesday. Topping the list are Australia and Iraq, who need just a point to progress, while victory would be enough to see Korea Republic and Qatar through from their respective sections regardless of other results.
Should the Qataris prevail, the result will also benefit section leaders Iran, who can advance with a draw against eliminated Indonesia. Lebanon could also seal qualification if they can win and Kuwait lose. FIFA.com previews the showdowns on Matchday 5.
When the two top sides of Group B line up against each other at Beirut's Sports City Stadium, both will be aware that they have changed considerably since their previous meeting on 2 September, when Korea Republic ran out 6-0 victors in Seoul. Lebanon, under Theo Bucker, have transformed into a highly competitive and organised side over the past two months, racking up seven points from their last three outings. Coach Cho Kwang-Rae's Taeguk Warriors, meanwhile, have underperformed recently, with only some superior finishing and opportunistic chances securing an unlikely 2-0 triumph over United Arab Emirates last Friday.
The visitors enter the rematch missing a series of star players, most notably striking ace Park Chu-Young through suspension. Sunderland striker Ji Dong-Won, who netted a brace in their last encounter, is a doubt to start after his below-par display against UAE. With the South Koreans left bemoaning their lack of offensive options, the hosts will aim to continue their recent form, which saw them undo Thailand 3-1 in a friendly and stun Kuwait 1-0 in the last qualifier.
The other attractions
In Group A, inspired by their back-to-back defeats of China PR, Iraq enter the section's top-of-the-table clash with Jordan seeking to obtain at least a point. Despite losing the first encounter 2-0, Zico's campaign-hardened outfit have gradually clawed themselves back into winning form and with free-scoring Younis Mahmoud, they are more than capable of avenging the defeat. In the other game, China PR travel to Singapore with little to play for but pride.
In Group B, Goran Tufegdzic's Kuwait have seen their campaign left in jeopardy after conceding second place to Lebanon with Friday’s defeat. A win at home against UAE will keep their hopes alive in the race for second spot, but a loss would provide Lebanon with the opportunity to progress together with the Koreans. With little time left for regrets, the Spain 1982 finalists must shake off their disappointment as quickly as possible in the showdown with UAE.
The battle in Group D remains wide open, with all four teams retaining hopes of a different kind. Australia travel to Bangkok needing a draw to seal their progression but after seeing his tactical change fail in the 1-0 defeat by Oman, coach Holger Osieck is likely to tighten the back-line by bringing Sasa Ognenovski back to the starting line-up. In the other game, both Saudi Arabia and Oman go into the return encounter at Riyadh boosted by their first wins, but it is Frank Rijkaard's hosts that can take heart from their superior historic record of 13 wins to three.
Elsewhere, Group E leaders Iran are expected to cement their place at the top with a comfortable victory in Indonesia, while Qatar entertain Bahrain in a game neither side can afford to lose. Under Sebastiao Lazaroni the Qataris have been among the campaign’s most consistent performers but the Bahrainis are undefeated in their recent seven meetings.
One of Saudi Arabia's biggest revelations in qualifying for South Africa 2010, Naif Hazazi scored the opener against Thailand which set his team on the road to a resounding 3-0 victory. With the Al Ittihad marksman back in goalscoring form, the Sons of Deserts' fortunes can be revived.
*1 - *China PR could be the first of the five seeds to be eliminated while Iraq would reach Asia’s final qualifying round for the first time since 2002.
What they said
"It is such a big pity that I can only cheer for my team from the stand instead of playing on the pitch. Previously I focused much on playing while paying less attention to fouls. The lessons must be learned,"Korea Republic captain Park Chu-Young
Matchday 5 fixtures
Group A:Singapore-China PR, Jordan-Iraq
Group B:Lebanon-Korea Republic, Kuwait-United Arab Emirates
Group C:Korea DPR-Japan, Uzbekistan-Tajikistan
Group D:Thailand-Australia, Saudi Arabia-Oman
Group E:Indonesia-Iran, Qatar-Bahrain