Asia's big four - the quartet that represented the continent at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ - face familiar foes as the third qualifying round reaches the third matchday on Thursday.* High-flying *Australia are hoping to continue their 100 per cent start with an away win against Saudi Arabia, while both Korea Republic and Japan will be aiming to prolong their dominant record against Qatar and Iraq, respectively, in this campaign. Iran, meanwhile, arrive in Tashkent seeking to bring Uzbekistan's winning streak to a close.
Elsewhere, China PR and Syria enter their first qualifying meeting with each other desperately seeking their first victory. Winless Thailand are, for their part, left with few options but to win in the United Arab Emirates if they are to keep their already-diminishing hopes alive. Join FIFA.com as we take a closer look at these enticing encounters.
Suwon World Cup Stadium, Suwon, 6 October, 20:00 local time
*Both sides enter this meeting looking to bounce back. Uli Stielike's hosts may have remained undefeated in this competition, but a narrow win over China and a goalless draw against Syria are a far cry from their expectations. Under even greater pressure are the visiting Qataris, whose two opening losses not only put their campaign in jeopardy but also cost coach Daniel Carreno his job. Under new boss Jorge Fossati, the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts are determined to revive their fortunes with victory.
The home team enjoy a superior head-to-head record with four wins and two draws from seven past meetings in all competitions. Notably, the South Koreans won home and away against the Qataris in the same stage in qualifying for Brazil 2014. Despite this, they can't underestimate their opponents, who became the first team to progress to the final qualifying round by winning their group with two games to spare. With the Syria draw sounding a warning note, Stielike has made several changes to his squad. In-form Tottenham Hotspur Son Heungmin is back to provide the drive, while Jeonbuk Motors duo Kim Bokyung and Kim Shinwook have earned call-ups on the back of their brilliant performances in the AFC Champions League.
The other attractions
*Group A *front-runners Uzbekistan entertain second-placed Iran hoping to strengthen their lead with a third straight win. Carlos Queiroz's Iran boast a mental edge, however, with four wins and a draw from their six previous encounters. But the two sides' record in World Cup qualifying remains even, having traded a 1-0 away victory on the road to Brazil 2014. Adding to the intrigue is the expectations placed on a pair of super-subs, with both Alexander Geynrikh and Reza Ghoochannejhad ready to come off the bench and add spark for their respective teams.
Also in Group A, both China PR and Syria are aiming to secure their first three points of the stage, in what is their maiden qualifying encounter against each other. Level with a point apiece, both teams know that they can re-ignite hopes with three points. Despite missing first-choice goalkeeper Zeng Cheng who is nursing an injury, China coach Gao Hongbo has a strong squad at his disposal with Netherlands-based teenager Zhang Yuning expecting to spearhead the attack after impressing in the goalless draw against Iran. Under Ayman Hakeem, the visitors are expected to showcase their trademark resilience which saw them draw against Korea Republic.
Saudi Arabia entertain Australia in Group B's top-of-the-table clash. Having secured two wins out of two each, both sides are aware that they can maintain their place at the summit with a third successive win. But it is the Green Falcons who enter the re-meeting with a score to settle having lost both home and away in their bid for Brazil 2014. Bert van Marwijk's hosts will look to their strong home form which has seen them win all five games on home soil. Ange Postecoglou has maintained faith in his winning squad, although he has recalled Guangzhou R&F forward Apo Giannou on the back of some impressive club form.
Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic has called up as many as 15 European-based players as they aim to defeat Iraq at home. Since their first 2-2 draw in qualifying for USA 1994, during which the Iraqis scored an injury-time equaliser to deny the Japanese maiden qualification, the Samurai Blue have developed an aura of invincibility with an unblemished head-to-head record, including triumphing both home and away in the last World Cup qualifying. Japan will miss the services of German-based duo of Takashi Usami and Yoshinori Muto but with the likes of Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa available, the hosts remain a formidable side for any opponent.
United Arab Emirates welcome Thailand in the two sides' fifth qualifying meeting. Mahdi Ali's hosts will, needless to say, look to their strong head-to-head record having won three out of four previous encounters. Kiatisuk Senamuang's visitors, though, can also take heart from a spirited 3-0 triumph against the same opponents on the road to Germany 2006. It is anticipated to be a clash of techniques considering that both teams are known for their sublime skills on the ball. Pulling the strings for UAE is none other than Omar Abdulrahman, who set up the opener and scored another as his Al Ain side came out on top against El Jaish 3-1 in the recent AFC Champions League semi-final first leg. For the Thais, in-form striker Teerasil Dangda is a key component if they are to grab their first points.
*Player to watch
*If his eye-catching club form is anything to go by, then Son Heungmin looks set to fire for Korea Republic against Qatar. The Tottenham Hotspur attacker recently completed a brace as his side won 2-1 at Middlesbrough before netting the only goal against hosts CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League. Having scored the match-winning goal against Qatar in a qualifier for Brazil 2014, the 24-year-old is hopeful of emulating the feat against the same rivals this time around.
*Do you know?
*Jorge Fossati has recently been given back the Qatari reins on the back of significant experience in Asia. The former Uruguay coach had a short spell in charge of the Qatar eight years ago before taking Qatari giants Al Sadd to the 2011 AFC Champions League title with a victory against Jeonbuk Motors in the final.
What they said
*"Team Melli's history shows that despite boasting great players, coaches and presidents, Iran have never qualified for the World Cup finals twice in a row. My job, my goal, my mission and my dream is to make this happen. If we learn from history, in order to make the impossible possible, we mustn't repeat the same mistakes or misunderstandings from the past," *Iran coach Carlos Queiroz
Matchday 3 fixtures
United Arab Emirates-Thailand