There were plenty of surprises in the third round of Asian qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, and it therefore comes as no surprise to see a pair of underdogs, Qatar and Korea DPR, currently sitting on top of their respective fourth round groups. The two unlikely leaders, however, face daunting tasks on Wednesday when they cross swords with Asian top seeds Australia and Iran respectively. Elsewhere, Uzbekistan travel to Japan desperate for a win to keep their hopes alive, while the United Arab Emirates will strive to belatedly open their account against hosts Korea Republic.
Matchday 3 fixtures:
15 October, 2008
Group A: Australia-Qatar, Japan-Uzbekistan
Group B: Korea Republic-United Arab Emirates, Iran-Korea DPR
The big match
Australia-Qatar, Brisbane, 15 October, 19:30 (Local time)
Qatar's 3-0 trouncing of Uzbekistan raised quite a few eyebrows in the Australia camp, and despite two emphatic wins in the previous qualifying round against Qatar, the host team dare not take their visitors too lightly. In the previous two meetings Pim Verbeek's Socceroos made the most of their physical edge, and Australia will again be looking for goals to the tall Josh Kennedy, who headed Australia into the lead in their third round opener in February.
Qatar, under new coach Bruno Metsu, will be looking to extend their surprise lead in the group. The memory of Metsu's achievement of guiding Senegal to the quarter-finals of Korea/Japan 2002 is rapidly fading, and the Frenchman will be determined to achieve an impressive result in his first game in charge, to re-establish his reputation after his uninspiring stint with UAE.
The other games
Japan-Uzbekistan, Saitama, 15 October, 19:32 (Local time)
Uzbekistan face an uphill struggle against Japan, who have been impressively dominant in the two sides' previous meetings. In the five matches played between them to date, the East Asians have won four, including an incredible 8-0 demolition in the 2000 AFC Asian Cup; a 1-1 draw at home on the way to France 1998 remains Uzbekistan's best result against the three-time Asian champions. Despite this poor record, Uzbekistan will have faith in the acumen of their new coach Mirdjalal Kasimov, who has proved his potential by guiding Bunyodkor to the last four of the AFC Champions League. His opposing number, Japan coach Takeshi Okada, has described the game as a "must-win" for his team.
Iran-Korea DPR, Tehran, 15 October, 17:00 (Local time)
If their two wins over Korea DPR in qualifying for Germany 2006 are anything to go by, Iran will have the psychological edge going into this game. However, the visiting side will be a hard nut to crack this time around; their rearguard has proved one of the most solid in Asia, conceding just two goals in their last eight games. Iran have undergone drastic personnel changes, with many veterans dropping out of the reckoning, and star playmaker Ali Karimi still absent. Coach Ali Daei will have to count on Osasuna's Javad Nekounam to take command in the middle of the park.
Korea Republic-United Arab Emirates, 15 October, 20:00 (Local time)
This match in Seoul's World Cup Stadium marks the two sides' fourth meeting in FIFA World Cup qualifying, with Korea Republic boasting a proud record against the Gulf side, with two wins and a draw to their name. Coach Huh Jung-Moo's team enter the game on the back of a 3-0 friendly win over Uzbekistan, while UAE, under new French coach Dominique Bathenay, needed a late equalizer to snatch a lucky 1-1 draw against Japan in their warm-up fixture.
What they said
"Australia are the obvious favorites, with all their talent. On our side, with Ramadan just over, it is going to be difficult for our players. We will probably be under pressure for large parts of the game, but we know that we will get our chances if we keep cool-headed and work hard," New Qatar coach Bruno Metsu
Play and win!
Still want more? Keen to test your football knowledge and expertise? Sign up for the FIFA.com Club today and play the McDonald's FIFA World Cup Fantasy football manager game, and the McDonald's FIFA World Cup Predictor game. There are great prizes, including trips to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. Good luck, and enjoy the games.