Titanic clashes loom large as Asia's third qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ reaches its midway stage on Tuesday. Topping the list is Iran’s meeting with Bahrain with both sides desperate to stamp their authority on the section with victory, while another epic clash takes place in Shenzhen as China PR seek to return to winning ways against 2007 Asian champions Iraq.
A third straight win will see Australia and Jordan edge closer to early progression, but pointless Singapore, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates and Tajikistan face must-win scenarios if they are to keep their qualifying hopes alive. FIFA.com previews the mouth-watering clashes across Asia.
Iran enter the first of their back-to-back meetings against Bahrain with an old score to settle, having lost 3-1 in Manama on the road to Korea/Japan 2002, a defeat which ultimately ended their qualification hopes. Under Carlos Queiroz, Team Melli have seen their fortunes rise recently and, boosted by their 7-0 rout of Palestine in the build-up to this match, they must be confident of exacting revenge this time around.
Few Asian teams have left the intimidating Azadi Stadium unscathed, yet the Bahrainis are one of the few to have bucked the trend managing a goalless draw in Tehran during the aforementioned qualifying campaign a decade ago. Peter Taylor's visiting side can also take heart from the recent return of captain Mohamed Salmeen from injury, while Swiss-based midfielder Abdulla Omar is expected to make his international debut.
The other attractions
Should Iran and Bahrain share the spoils, Qatar can move top of Group E with victory in Indonesia. The west Asians boast a proud historic record heading into the game in Jakarta, having won four of their six previous meetings. Sebastiao Lazaroni's side enter the match undefeated in the qualifying campaign, having drawn against both Bahrain and Iran. However, they will be wary of the south-east Asian's recent form, which saw them hold Saudi Arabia to a goalless draw in a warm-up.
In Group A, a 2-1 friendly defeat of UAE offers China with a much-needed morale-booster as Jose Antonio Camacho's side seek to put their campaign back on track by defeating Iraq, having lost the previous outing 2-0 in Jordan. However, it is Zico's charges that travel to China with a mental edge, having drawn at home and won away against the Chinese on the road to South Africa 2010. In the section's other match, Jordan have fixed their sights on another three points in Singapore, which will leave the rejuvenated west Asians sitting pretty at the top of the group.
The same can also be said of Group D's Australia, who are looking to continue their perfect run with a home win over Oman. Despite missing the services of goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and midfielder Tim Cahill due to injury, Holger Osieck's Socceroos still look very much the side to beat, particularly on the evidence of their recent 5-0 demolition of Malaysia. Saudi Arabia, though, face a tough trip to Thailand having come up with a solitary point from two matches. Frank Rijkaard’s charges arrive in Bangkok as historical favourites having prevailed in all their 12 previous meetings but the hosts, boosted by their latest 3-0 triumph over Oman, have form on their side.
In Group B, both Korea Republic and UAE disappointed in pre-match warms-up, with the former conceding a late goal to draw 2-2 with Poland, while the latter lost to China. A home win will see the Koreans on the edge of progression, while the visiting west Asians are left with no option but to go for three points as they seek to remain in contention. The group's other match pits in-form Kuwait against hosts Lebanon, with the home side determined to pull off a surprise despite conceding six unanswered goals against the visitors in a friendly in July.
Elsewhere, Japan may be entering uncharted waters in Tajikistan, however the Asian champions will undoubtedly expect to stamp their authority on Group C with a second win. However, Alberto Zaccheroni's side must overcome not only the hosts, but also their recent lacklustre form which saw them conjure a narrow 1-0 win over Vietnam in a recent match. In the other group encounter, Uzbekistan face a tricky test against Korea DPR at Pyongyang with a win enough to ensure temporary status in the section's top two.
Having scored the match and tournament winner against Australia in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup final, Tadanari Lee proved the difference in their recent friendly against Vietnam by netting the only goal.
4 - Korea Republic talisman Park Chu-Young has been on target four times so far to top the third stage's scoring chart.
What they said
"Bahrain coach has announced they come here to beat us but we are not scared of them. We will answer them with our performance on the pitch," Iran coach Carlos Queiroz
Asian third qualifying round matchday 3 fixtures:
Group A: China PR-Iraq, Singapore-Jordan
Group B: Lebanon-Kuwait, Korea Republic-United Arab Emirates
Group C: Korea DPR-Uzbekistan, Tajikistan-Japan
Group D: Thailand-Saudi Arabia, Australia-Oman
Group E: Indonesia-Qatar, Iran-Bahrain