Heavyweights across Asia are hoping to make the best of the double-headers on Matchday 4 despite playing away from home. Brazil 2014 finalists Iran and Japan are both expecting a second win within five days against India and Afghanistan respectively but Korea Republic will be wise to be wary of a resilient Lebanon. Australia, meanwhile, face the unknown in Tajikistan.
Iraq travel to Thailand and Uzbekistan visit Philippines seeking three points, but they cannot underestimate the home sides, both of whom have stayed perfect in this campaign. Elsewhere, China PR and Jordan are desperately hoping to reignite their hopes of reaching the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. FIFA.com takes a closer look at all the upcoming action in Asia from Matchday 4.
This game has the potential to capture the wildest of imaginations when Uzbekistan enter uncharted waters in Philippines. Despite their status as the pre-tournament favourites, the central Asians were dealt with an opening 4-2 loss to Korea DPR, a result which put their campaign straight into jeopardy. The southeast Asians on the other hand pulled off two consecutive victories, which established them among the biggest surprise packages.
Under new manager Samvel Babayan, a much-changed Uzbek squad sparked their qualification hopes by defeating Yemen 1-0 in their last outing. Striker Alexander Geynrikh announced his return by coming off the bench to score the only goal. Two-time AFC Player of the Year Server Djeparov is back from injury, while Russian-based Odil Ahmedov inherits the captain's armband from goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov, who lost his starting place to newcomer Aleksandr Lobanov.
The new-look visitors arrive in Manila seeking to revive their fortunes but they should be wary of their progressive hosts. A 2-0 friendly win against Maldives gave coach Thomas Dooley's charges the timely morale-booster and the Azkals can look forward to their home support at a sold-out Philippine Sports Stadium. Experienced Phil Younghusband remains the team's skipper, while the goal-scoring tasks lie on the shoulders of top-scorer Misagh Bahadoran and an in-form Javier Patino.
The other attractions
In Group A, a desperate Malaysia entertain Saudi Arabia aiming to improve their play under caretaker coach Ong Kim Swee, who replaced the recently-resigned Dollah Salleh in the wake of their disastrous 10-0 loss to the United Arab Emirates. The latter, meanwhile, travel to the West Bank hoping to maintain their unblemished record with a third straight victory against hosts Palestine.
Group B front-runners Australia must overcome the fatigue of travel as they seek a third consecutive win heading into the unknown in Tajikistan. Having thrived in the central attacking role in the 5-0 demolition of Bangladesh, Bundesliga-based Mathew Leckie is expected to continue his brilliant showing. Jordan are, for their part, hoping to bounce back in Bangladesh following the unexpected draw against Kyrgyzstan.
The same can be said of Group C's China, who are seeking to get their campaign back on track with a victory against winless Maldives. While the pressure is on Alain Perrin's side after the goalless draw against Hong Kong, the Team Dragon can expect strong home support with the venue changed from Male to Shenyang of China. The other game in the group sees Qatar and Hong Kong battle for the section's top place.
In Group D, India will look to captain Subrata Pal's goalkeeping form as they look to keep the formidable Iran at bay. Carlos Queiroz's visitors may appear to be the overwhelming favourites considering their rampaging form against Guam but Stephen Constantine's home side have proved that they can bear their teeth with striking-ace Sunil Chhetri scoring four times in qualifying so far. Elsewhere, Guam welcome leaders Oman looking to prove their early form is not a flash in the pan.
Group E's Syria and Japan should have few problems against Cambodia and Afghanistan but Group F's Iraq will underestimate hosts Thailand at their own peril. The Iraqis may remain undefeated in major international competitions against the Thais but the hosts can take heart from a pair of friendly wins on home soil.
In Group G leaders Korea Republic arrive in Beirut with a score to settle, having lost to hosts Lebanon 2-1 in unexpected fashion on the road to Brazil 2014. Nonetheless, the Taeguk Warriors have a dominant record in this fixture, with the aforementioned loss the only defeat they have suffered in eight World Cup qualifying meetings with the Lebanese. The other match pits hosts Laos against Kuwait.
Player to watch
Korea Republic will be hoping experienced midfielder Koo Ja-Cheol can help them avenge their previous defeat to Lebanon in the same stage four years ago. The new Augsburg signing, who played the full 90 minutes in that forgettable defeat, will be motivated and will likely play a key part on both offensive and defensive fronts for the Koreans as they look to maintain their top spot in Group G.
Did you know?
The match against United Arab Emirates marks Palestine's third FIFA World Cup qualifier in the Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium, Al-Ram. They remain undefeated on home soil, having drawn Afghanistan 1-1 before holding Thailand 2-2 in qualifying for Brazil 2014.
What they said
"We respect Iran as a team. They are special. But we would be wearing the Indian jersey and representing 1.24 billion people. That itself is a motivation for all," India captain Subrata Pal.
Matchday 4 fixtures:
Group A: Malaysia-Saudi Arabia; Palestine-United Arab Emirates
Group B: Bangladesh-Jordan; Tajikistan-Australia
Group C: Maldives-China PR; Hong Kong-Qatar
Group D: India-Iran; Guam-Oman
Group E: Afghanistan-Japan; Cambodia-Syria
Group F: Thailand-Iraq; Chinese Taipei-Vietnam
Group G: Lebanon-Korea Republic; Laos-Kuwait
Group H: Yemen-Bahrain; Philippines-Uzbekistan