United Arab Emirates entertain Australia in the only winners' clash on matchday two of Asia's third qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, with either side seeking to build on their opening victory with another three points.
A quintet of hosts, meanwhile, aim to bounce back having lost their openers on the road. Qatar, China PR and Thailand will all look to their strong home support against Uzbekistan, Iran and Japan. Meanwhile, Syria and Iraq are expecting to put their campaign back on track with victories against Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia respectively, despite playing hosts in neutral venues. FIFA.com looks ahead to these enticing match-ups.
United Arab Emirates-Australia, Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, 19:30 local time
Many eyes are on Group B's top-of-the-table clash between United Arab Emirates and Australia, both of whom have their sights set on another three points after opening their respective campaigns in triumphant fashion. Mahdi Ali's hosts are upbeat after they pulled off a 2-1 stunner in Japan in the opener, while Ange Postecoglou's Socceroos enter the second outing fine-tuned on the back of a 2-0 victory over Iraq. The visitors came out on top in their last meeting at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, prevailing 2-0 in the semi-final en route to their maiden continental success. But the home side can look to their undefeated home record, having played out a pair of goalless draws against the Socceroos in friendlies.
Ranked 17 spots above UAE on the FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking, Australia can count on their overseas-based line-up. Valencia custodian Mathew Ryan has done a good job between the sticks while shoring up the defence is China PR-based Trent Sainsbury who opened the scoring in the two sides' last Asian Cup encounter. Up front, the new link-up between Massimo Luongo and Tomi Juric is inspiring, with the attacking duo each finding the net against Iraq in the opener.
Featuring an entire home-based line-up, though, UAE boast a proven leader and goal-machine in captain Ahmed Khalil, the reigning AFC Player of the Year who completed a brace against the Japanese. Partnering him in attack is fleet-footed Ali Mabkhout, while Mohamed Abdulrahman remains the man pulling the strings in the centre of the park. With their trademark counter-attack tactics, the well-drilled hosts are more than capable of springing another surprise.
The other attractions
Also seeking to cement their place in Group B are Saudi Arabia, who take on Iraq in what is the two sides' fifth World Cup qualifying meeting. The Green Falcons enter the clash with a clear mental edge, having remained undefeated with three wins and a draw previously. Notably, they won both home and away against the Iraqis in the same stage en route to clinching qualification for Korea/Japan 2002. Iraq can, however, take heart from their strong record in other competitions with 15 wins and seven draws from 27 meetings. Particularly, they edged out the Saudis 1-0 in the 2007 Asian Cup final.
Thailand and Japan meet in Bangkok with each side desperate to bounce back from their respective opening losses. Both teams enter the second fixture hoping to revive their fortunes, but it is the visitors who can look to their unblemished record against the Thais having racked up four clear wins out of four during their previous qualifying meetings. After paying for their profligacy in front of goal in the opening loss to UAE, Vahid Halilhodzic's Japan head to the second outing determined to improve their shooting accuracy.
Group A leaders Iran travel to China PR in buoyant mood having scraped past Qatar with two injury-time strikes. Carlos Queiroz's side can, needless to say, draw inspiration from their overwhelming qualifying record against the hosts with three wins and a loss. However, Team Melli will be well aware of the improved form of the Chinese, who came close to pulling off a stunner against Korea Republic. In a sense, the match is a clash between two striking prodigies of Wu Lei and Sardar Azmoun, both of whom are keen on opening their accounts.
Korea Republic take on Syria in their second fixture, which marks the two sides' first World Cup qualifier. While few question the Taeguk Warriors' chances of grabbing a second win, coach Uli Stielike warned his side against their lapse in the opener against China, which saw them concede two late goals in quick succession despite taking a 3-0 lead. But the Koreans must make do without Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Son Heungmin who had a hand in two goals as they edged out the Chinese. His replacement is Hwang Uijo of Seongnam FC, who is likely to be deployed upfront alongside Ji Dongwon.
Elsewhere, Uzbekistan arrive in Qatar hoping to prolong their proud qualifying head-to-head history against the hosts, having won four and drawn one from six previous meetings. The Qataris, for their part, can take heart from their only victory when they fired three unanswered goals past the Uzbeks at the same Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium eight years ago on the road to South Africa 2010.
Player to watch
Striker Alexander Geynrikh is expected to continue his super-sub role as Uzbekistan aim to win against Qatar. The current squad's top scorer has proved his worth after repeatedly coming off the bench to bag decisive goals in this campaign. Having netted the only goal against Yemen, the former CSKA Moscow forward was on target in their 3-1 home win against Korea DPR before scoring the match-winner against Syria in the opener.
Did you know?
Iraq and Syria, both of whom have to play their home games away from their homeland due to political reasons, welcome Saudi Arabia and Korea Republic respectively in neutral Malaysia.
What they said
"For us we’re going there (Abu Dhabi) for the three points. We’re not going to change our game plan, no matter who we play. It’s three points for us or it might feel like a loss," Australia defender Trent Sainsbury.
Matchday 2 fixtures
United Arab Emirates-Australia