Australia and Japan will once again go head-to-head in the battle for FIFA World Cup™ qualifying. Also seeking one of Group B’s two automatic berths to Brazil 2014 will be 2007 Asian champions Iraq, plus west Asian outsiders Oman and Jordan.
The two highest seeds in the group, Australia and Japan, enjoy a healthy rivalry dating back to 1956, exactly 50 years prior to the former being admitted to the Asian Football Confederation. The two nations met in qualifying for South Africa 2010, with Australia edging their opponents and topping the group thanks to a win and a draw in the sides' meetings. The Samurai Blue did, however, claim ample revenge with an extra-time win in last year’s AFC Asian Cup final. Most famously though, the pair met at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, with Australia claiming a dramatic 3-1 comeback win in what is still the only match on the world stage between two Asian nations.
The other three group members will all harbour realistic ambitions of at least finishing third and securing a play-off berth. Jordan have ploughed new ground simply by reaching this stage, while Oman make it to the final group stage for the second time. Both have shown enough to prove that they will not simply be making up the numbers. On their day, Iraq are also capable of mixing it with anyone on the continent and this group seems sure to go down to the final matchday in June 2013.
Australia: Asia’s top-ranked team have undergone a period of regeneration since South Africa 2010, but coach Holger Osieck has managed the ongoing process with great success. The Socceroos largely impressed in Third Round qualifying, winning every one of their matches aside from a solitary surprise defeat in Oman. The next stage will clearly be significantly tougher, but provided key players remain fit, Australia will be optimistic of a third successive appearance on the world stage.
Japan: The Asian champions were in supreme form until midway through their Round 3 campaign, only for two defeats and a draw to see them pipped to first place by Uzbekistan. The pressure may have intensified on Alberto Zaccheroni but the quality of the Japan squad is undeniable, and their attacking options are particularly notable, with the likes of Germany-based duo Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki always a danger.
Iraq: The team that shocked the world in 2007 by winning the AFC Asian Cup are aiming to qualify for the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986. The Lions of Mesopotamia are somewhat of an ageing side with many stars of 2007 still in the squad; Younis Mahmoud and Nashat Akram key amongst them. With legendary Brazilian Zico at the helm, Iraq have impressed thus far, collecting five wins despite being required to play two of their home matches on neutral turf.
Jordan: The west Asians have reached the heady heights of Asia’s Fourth Round for the first time, yet their form over the past year or so, belies their modest history. Impressive showings at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup were duly replicated in FIFA World Cup qualifying as Adnan Hamad’s side secured progression with two matches to spare.
Oman: The Gulf nation’s qualification was in doubt until the final stage of the last matchday, when they edged past group rivals Saudi Arabia and Thailand. Paul Le Guen’s side have displayed contrasting home and away form thus far, crashing to heavy defeats on the road to Thailand and Australia, yet defeating the same two opponents in Muscat.
The players to watch
Mark Schwarzer (AUS), Tim Cahill (AUS), Josh Kennedy (AUS), Yuto Nagatomo (JPN), Shinji Kagawa (JPN), Shinji Okazaki (JPN), Younis Mahmoud (IRQ), Nashat Akram (IRQ), Hasan Abdel Fattah (JOR), Abdallah Deeb (JOR), Ali Al Habsi (OMA), Amad Al Hosni (OMA)
The crunch match
This match could well decide which team stays in with a chance of automatic qualification, or at the very least a play-off berth. Adding extra spice is that highly successful Jordan mentor Adnan Hamad is a former Iraq national team striker, having also coached his nation on numerous occasions, including during South Africa 2010 qualifying. The pair also met in Round 3, with each recording a win apiece on their opponents’ home turf.
A look back
Australia 2-1 Japan, 17 June 2009, Melbourne
Nearly three years to the day since Tim Cahill hit a double against Japan in Kaiserslautern to lift the Socceroos to their maiden FIFA World Cup win, the Everton midfielder repeated the dose against the Samurai Blue. Cahill’s two goals in a 2-1 comeback win ensured Australia headed for South Africa 2010 having topped their qualifying group.
6 – Among the ten remaining teams, Jordan’s Hasan Mahmoud and Iraqi namesake Younis are, along with Korea Republic’s Park Chu-Young, joint-top goalscorers in Asian Zone qualifying with six apiece. Vietnam’s Le Cong Vinh still holds down top spot with seven.
Did you know?
Australia and Japan are evenly matched after their 19 encounters, with each recording seven wins and five draws.
Have your say
Which will be the first of Group B’s teams to qualify for Brazil 2014?