It could be D-day for Australia on Wednesday as they bid to be the first team to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. However, Pim Verbeek's charges must beat Uzbekistan and hope that Bahrain draw with Qatar in order to book their place at world football's showpiece event.
In Group B, the two Koreas are wondering whether either team will be able to break the deadlock of draws in qualification for South Africa 2010, following stalemates in their three previous meetings. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, will be looking to achieve a second consecutive win aganst United Arab Emirates in Riyadh.
Matchday 7 fixtures
1 April 2009
Group A: Bahrain-Qatar, Australia-Uzbekistan
Group B: Korea Republic-Korea DPR, Saudi Arabia-United Arab Emirates
The big match
Australia go into the match knowing that a win could be enough to take them to South Africa. The Socceroos have already beaten the Uzbeks before in this qualifying phase; a narrow 1-0 win back in September 2008. However, Verbeek saw enough in that match to describe Wednesday's opponents as being "more dangerous" than group leaders Japan. Australia have some fitness worries going into the game with Tim Cahill, Mark Bresciano, Carl Valeri and Michael Beauchamp all rated as doubtful. Uzbekistan have to deal with the loss of Maksim Shatskikh, who is ruled out with sickness, but the previously-suspended Anzur Ismailov is back to shore up their defence.
The other games
With group leaders Japan and Australia expected to finish in the top two, the game at Manama will be important for both Bahrain and Qatar, who are likely to be left battling for the third place play-off. History shows us that this is a closely-fought encounter, given the fact that in their 26 meetings so far, Qatar have just one more win than Bahrain. This could be a game which is decided by the coaches. While Milan Macala has been heralded for his work with Bahrain, Bruno Metsu is still searching for his first win in charge of Qatar.
Korean Republic-Korea DPR, Seoul
While draws have been commonplace for these two sides, both teams will be going all out for victory when they meet in Seoul. With Saudi Arabia coming back into the reckoning and Iran still in contention, only a win could maintain a safe distance between either team and the chasing pack. Coach Kin Jung-Hun's visiting side are likely to count on goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk's current form to keep the hosts at bay. For Huh Jung-Moo's side, the longstanding problem of how to breach the opponents' rearguard while leaving no gaps at the back is the most pressing concern.
Saudi Arabia-United Arab Emirates, Riyadh
A repeat of the sensational 2-1 victory over Iran in his first qualifier in charge is all that Jose Peseiro needs when his Saudi Arabia side play hosts to the section's bottom team, UAE. A win could see the Saudis move into top two while defeat would effectively end UAE's qualifying hopes. Boasting a proud record with 15 wins and 6 draws out of the 27 meetings between the two sides, Saudi Arabia enter the game as firm favourites.
Player to watch
With their talisman Maksim Shatskikh sidelined, Server Djeparov is expected to take on the mantle when Uzbekistan travel to Australia on Wednesday. The reigning AFC Player of the Year was a shadow of his former self in his last game against Qatar, but coach Mirdjalal Kasimov will keep faith in him, hoping that the 26-year-old can reproduce the form which saw him steer Uzbekistan through to the last round.
"We may have lost to Japan but the game with Qatar is even more important. A win will enhance our hopes of taking the third place," Milan Macala, Bahrain coach.