The third round of Asian Zone qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ got off to an interesting start, with a number of underdogs giving more illustrious opponents serious examinations. Australia, China PR and Japan did manage to eke out victories, however, and will be hoping to march on to six points on Matchday 2. FIFA.com previews a set of fixtures which include the Socceroos’ visit to Saudi Arabia and the Samurai Blue’s stop in Uzbekistan.
Click this Classic Qualifiers link to the right to read about some of the FIFA World Cup’s epic preliminary matches, including how the Japan-Korea Republic rivalry was born in 1954 and how Iran rallied in Australia to snatch a berth at France 1998.
The Dammam duel will be the sides’ fourth meeting in history but first since the FIFA Confederations Cup in 1997, when the Saudis won 1-0 on home soil. Desperate for his first victory at the reins of ‘The Sons of the Desert’, Frank Rijkaard wants nothing less than three points. However, having drawn 0-0 with Oman first time out, the Dutchman is likely to switch his 4-3-3 formation back to a 4-4-2, with captain Yasser Al Qahtani spearheading the attack alongside Mohammed Al Shalhoub.
Despite their less-than-convincing start - a comeback 2-1 win over Thailand – the Socceroos still look the team to beat in the group, given their runners-up finish in January's AFC Asian Cup. And with three points already on the board, Australia will have less pressure on them than Saudi Arabia.
The other attractions
The absence of Japan's talisman Keisuke Honda took its toll as the Asian champions struggled to find the net against Korea DPR, with the victory only sealed deep into stoppage time courtesy of defender Maya Yoshida. With the CSKA Moscow midfielder still missing the Uzbekistan match due an injured right knee, coach Alberto Zaccheroni has urged his players to maintain their passing game and stay patient in front of the goal. The Central Asians, meanwhile, welcome the Japanese seeking their first win having never defeated their upcoming opponents in seven previous attempts.
Also keen to make history are Jordan, who are out for their first win in nine games with China PR. Boosted by their spirited victory over Iraq, coach Adnan Hamad openly stated his side’s desire to attack their visitors. But his words did little to daunt his opposite number, Spaniard Jose Antonio Camacho, with the former Spain and Real Madrid boss firmly confident to win the tactical battle.
In Group E, most eyes are on the derby between two Portuguese-speaking coaches, with Carlos Queiroz's Iran crossing swords with Sebastiao Lazaroni's Qatar. Having suffered a 2-0 upset in Qatar in a crucial qualifier for France 1998, the former arrive at Doha determined to avenge the previous defeat with another three points. The latter, for their part, will count on not only home support but also the vast experiences from their Brazilian gaffer to cause a surprise.
The matchday pits Group B's two winning teams together. Captained by their hat-trick hero Park Chu-Young, Korea Republic are hoping in earnest to continue their sparking form but they must keep wary of the in-form Kuwait, who boast a balanced record against the South Koreans, racking up eight wins and two draws from a total of 19 meetings. In another game that features the two losing sides, Lebanon face an uphill task against United Arab Emirates, who are expecting to bounce back with a win under Serbian coach Srecko Katanec.
Elsewhere, despite impressing in their openers, both Thailand and Singapore are aware they must gain points against Oman and Iraq respectively if they are to salvage any realistic hopes. This can be also said of their fellow south-east Asians Indonesia, who can take heart from their previous 2-1 victory over Bahrain in the AFC Asian Cup 2007 as co-hosts.
Player to watch
Despite being 33, Uzbekistan striking veteran Maksim Shatskikh showed his scoring form hasn't yet deserted him by netting the match-winning goal against Tajikistan. Having been on target in a previous 1-1 draw in Japan on the road to South Africa 2010, the former Dynamo Kyiv star remains a potent weapon for the Uzbeks.
3 - The number of the newly-appointed coaches, namely Rijkaard, Lazaroni and Lebanon’s Theo Bucker, who are still in desperate search for their first competitive victory.
What they said
Winfried Schaefer, Thailand coach: “We will play a full attacking game against Oman, although they have a different style to Australia. Our players must fight harder for the ball when they concede it, and I hope they can get plenty of rest after the long flight back home.”
Matchday 2 fixtures
Group A: Singapore-Iraq, Jordan-China PR
Group B: Lebanon-United Arab Emirates, Kuwait-Korea Republic
Group C: Uzbekistan-Japan, Korea DPR-Tajikistan
Group D: Thailand-Oman, Saudi Arabia-Australia
Group E: Indonesia-Bahrain, Qatar-Iran