- Iran will book qualification for Russia 2018 with a home victory
- Japan can establish a three-point lead in Group B if they prevail
- Both Thailand and Iraq will play for nothing but pride
Asia's qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ is approaching its first watershed moment with Iran in sight of reaching the global finals. A victory at home against third-placed Uzbekistan will be enough to send Carlos Queiroz's Team Melli through to join qualified Brazil and hosts Russia at next year's extravaganza. Korea Republic, meanwhile, travel to Qatar targeting three points with their sights fixed at a potential second qualifying spot from Group A.
In Group B, Japan arrive at Tehran to take Iraq knowing that an away victory will move them three points clear of arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Australia, both of whom are level on points. Trailing the giant trio by seven points, United Arab Emirates face a must-win scenario if they are to maintain their slim hopes of a play-off place. Join FIFA.com as we take a closer look at the upcoming action across Asia.
Iran-Uzbekistan, Azadi Stadium, Tehran, 21:15 local time
The importance of the match needs no explanation for the hosts, who can progress to Russia 2018 with three points. Carlos Queiroz's side will look to both their home support and dominant head-to-head record against the visitors which has seen them win five of the seven past meetings. The Uzbeks can take heart from their only victory against Iran, which was a solitary-goal away victory at Tehran at the same stage on the road to Brazil 2014. Samvel Babayan's side are motivated by the potential of leapfrogging the Taeguk Warriors into the section's second place with a victory.
Both sides enter the match in winning form. Uzbekistan defeated Thailand by 2-0 in a recent friendly while Iran beat Montenegro by the same scoreline with hotshot forward Sardar Azmoun grabbing a brace. Uzbekistan will count on veteran Alexander Geynrikh to continue his super-sub role while in-form Odil Ahmedov remains the man skippering the side.
The other attractions
Also in Group A, Korea Republic arrive in Doha hoping to prolong their undefeated qualifying record against hosts Qatar, having won three and drawn one from the past four meetings. Coach Uli Stielike has called back former AFC Player of the Year Lee Keunho to enhance their potency up front and the visitors will hope to pick the brain of midfielder Nam Taehee for some insider information, who recently earned the Qatar FA Player of the Year award for helping Lekhwiya to their fifth Qatari league title.
Syria entertain China PR in Malaysia aiming to cut the gap to Uzbekistan. The West Asian side will be keen to replicate their 1-0 win against the Chinese in the return game in October. However, they must make do without top striker Omar Kharbin who is ruled out through injury. The visitors, under Marcello Lippi, enter the game with their sights firmly fixed at three points, but their growing injury list sees both striker Yu Dabao and captain Zheng Zhi absent.
Things in Group B look even tighter after Australia edged Saudi Arabia 3-2 in Adelaide on Thursday. The result confirmed the elimination of Iraq and moved the Socceroos level with both Japan and Saudi Arabia on points. The competition may become harder with three games left but Japan, leading on goal difference, are all too aware that they can establish a three-point cushion at the summit with a victory against Iraq.
Elsewhere, UAE arrive in Bangkok knowing they must win to realistically keep their hopes of reaching Russia alive. The visitors have boasted a dominant head-to-head record with four wins out of five, including prevailing 3-1 at home in the first-leg meeting. An away victory may look within the UAE's grasp but they will underestimate the Thais at their peril, considering they conceded three unanswered goals in the same Rajamangala Stadium on the road to Germany 2006.
Player to watch
In a sense, the United Arab Emirates' rejuvenation over recent years is embodied by Omar Abdulrahman. The gifted playmaker excelled as his side reached the last four in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup and sealed a return to Asia's final qualifying round for the World Cup. The 25-year-old tops the ongoing AFC Champions League's goal-scoring chart with seven strikes. Should he translate his recent club form onto the international stage, UAE should upstage their Thai hosts.
Did you know?
Iraq and Thailand, both from Group B, are already eliminated with three matches left.
What they said
"We lead our group, we have no defeats and we conceded no goals. However, we are not yet in the place we want. Our game is not over yet. If we want to succeed, there is one price to pay. Victories never come cheap. In this moment, only full sacrifice will take Team Melli to the place we all dream of," Carlos Queiroz, Iran head coach.
Matchday 8 fixtures
12 and 13 June
Australia 3-2 Saudi Arabia (8 June)
Thailand-United Arab Emirates