The Chinese saying "Three and out" suggests that after three failures, you might as well give up for good. China’s footballers will be hoping for anything but as they enter Asia’s third qualifying round seeking to redeem themselves after their failure to even reach the final phase of the preliminaries for Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010. And they should have only themselves to blame if they miss out on a place at the FIFA World Cup™ for a consecutive third time after receiving a kinder draw than four years ago.

That said, the east Asians will underestimate their rivals at their peril. The 1986 FIFA World Cup finalists and 2007 AFC Asian Cup winners Iraq are likely to pose the biggest threat while Jordan have developed into a competitive force over recent years. Singapore, for their part, may need a miracle if they are to make history by progressing to Asia’s qualifying finals for the first time.

The favourites
China: Boasting one FIFA World Cup appearance at Korea/Japan 2002 and two Asian Cup runners-up slots, China have the pedigree to seal one of the section’s two qualifying spots. Despite failing to progress beyond the group stage in January’s continental finals, they have made fast progress under coach former Gao Hongbo over the past two years, with their consistent performances and results moving them into Asia’s top five in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.

The outsiders
Iraq: Captained by strike ace Mahmoud Younis and guided by Brazilian legend Zico, Iraq are more than capable of finishing in the top two, provided that they can overcome their long-standing problem of inconsistency.

Jordan: If their stunning quarter-final performances at Qatar 2011 are anything to go by, it seems that the west Asians are set to make more of an impact in the qualifying campaign than four years ago by progressing to the final phase for the first time.

Players to watch
Qu Bo (CHN), Deng Zhuoxiang (CHN), Yang Hao (CHN), Nashat Akram (IRQ),Younis Mahmoud (IRQ), Hassan Abdel Fattah (JOR)

The crunch match
Before their emergence at the 2004 Asian Cup, where they stormed into the last eight on their first finals appearance, Jordan were the long-standing underdogs in meetings with Iraq, losing five and drawing one of six FIFA World Cup qualifying meetings. Yet the trend has been reversed in recent years and they have not lost to Iraq since 2007. The fact that the Jordanian reins are now held by former Iraq boss Adnan Hamad should ensure they are not lacking knowledge about their rivals, and may provide a tactical edge.

A look back
China 1-2 Iraq, 14 June 2008, Tianjin
The draw pits Iraq and China together in continental qualifying for the third time, with the former leading the head-to-head record with two wins to one from four previous encounters. Their latest match-up came in the same stage on the road to South Africa 2010, when Iraq came from behind to claim a spirited 2-1 win in Tianjin, following an earlier 1-1 draw in Dubai.

The stat
32 – the number of games played between Iraq and Jordan.

Did you know?
Iraq were made to feel at home in China during the 2004 Asian Cup when they enjoyed warm support from the local fans – until they met the hosts in the quarter-finals and were crushed 3-0.

Have your say
Will China and Iraq make up for their qualifying failures four years ago, or can Jordan cause an upset by progressing at the expense of one of the pair?