Top seeds Australia and Korea Republic receive a bye on Saturday's Matchday 1 of Asia's final qualifying round for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Despite this, however, there will be no shortage of excitement, with eight of Asia's top teams vying against each other, all desperate for an opening win. Join FIFA.com for a look at Asia's fixtures.
Matchday 1 fixtures:
Group A: Bahrain-Japan, Qatar-Uzbekistan
Group B: United Arab Emirates-Korea DPR, Saudi Arabia-Iran
Group A: Clash of the 1-0 experts
Bahrain-Japan, Manama, 6 September, 21:30 (local time)
These two sides know each other only too well. A semi-final victory in the 2004 AFC Asian Cup, and two 1-0 wins in qualifying for Germany 2006, gave Japan the upper hand in their head-to-head story. But the Gulf side, under wily Czech coach Milan Macala, notched a famous victory over Japan on 26 March this year, A'ala Hubail scoring the only goal.
But Japan took revenge soon. Takeshi Okada's charges restored their pride with another 1-0 win against Bahrain in the return leg. Advantage Japan then, for the moment. But Takeshi Okada has not forgotten the embarrassment of March. "It will be a tough match," he said. "But if we come out of this one with a win, we know we can go all the way."
Qatar-Uzbekistan, Doha, 6 September, 22:00 (local time)
Qatar's situation is far from ideal: not only have they just been defeated 2-1 by Saudi Arabia in a friendly, but four key players, including captain Hussain Yasser, will be missing the match against Uzbekistan.
However, anyone writing the Qataris off will do so as their own peril. Uruguayan Jorge Fossati's fame as a master tactician was enhanced when Qatar, under him, stunned the likes of Iraq and China in the last qualifying round to book progression into the last ten. He intends to adopt an aggressive posture against the Central Asians at home. "My aim is to play to our strengths," he said. "I won't hesitate to field three forwards if needed."
Group B: Daei looks to end Saudi jinx
Saudi Arabia-Iran, Riyadh, 6 September, 22:15 (local time)
If their performance in the previous qualifying round is anything to go by, it seems that Iran, under the legendary Ali Daei, are set to pose Saudi Arabia serious problems. Yet Saudi Arabia boast a proud record against Iran over the past decade and a half, having progressed to FIFA World Cup finals at the Iranians' expense on no fewer than three occasions.
Daei is determined to change this, and with a host of youthful talents complementing the experienced old heads, Iran are more than capable of turning the tables this time round. "We are going there looking for a win, not just a draw," the former star striker vowed.
UAE-Korea DPR, Abu Dhabi, 6 September, 22:15 (local time)
The match at Abu Dhabi's Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium features two surprise packages of the last qualifying round, who each impressed by qualifying convincingly from their respective sections. And they are by no means strangers to each other, having locked horns in the qualifying campaign four years ago, where the West Asian side claimed four points from their two encounters.
Both sides have undergone lengthy preparation for this game. Korea DPR rounded off their preparation with a goalless draw against Uzbekistan, while UAE, under Frenchman Bruno Metsu, have toiled through a training camp in Europe, during which they lost to Algeria 1-0 in a friendly, before going down to Bahrain 3-2 in a final warm-up. Despite these results, Metsu expressed confidence going into Saturday's big test. "We are not looking for good friendly results. We are looking to make sure that the players are in peak form going into the qualifying games."
McDonald's FIFA World Cup Predictor
Austria-France, Argentina-Paraguay and Chile-Brazil are among the matches on the opening round of the McDonald's FIFA World Cup Predictor. If you haven't already, be sure to sign up and take a shot at winning a fanstastic trip to South Africa 2010.