Asia's elite enter matchday four of the continent's third qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ in vastly contrasting form. Of the 20 nations, four harbour genuine hopes of progressing with two matches to spare, while as many as five face an early elimination.
A win in Oman will be enough to see Australia through from Group D, while the likes of Jordan, Japan and Uzbekistan can advance if they win and other results go their way. The four pointless sides, namely Singapore, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, and Tajikistan, together with Korea DPR are left with little option but to win to keep their slim hopes alive. Please join FIFA.com as we preview the showdowns across the continent.
Having failed at the same stage on the road to recent FIFA World Cups, coach Jose Camacho's China PR are once again facing a must-win scenario, with a defeat in Doha all but seeing them written out. With one draw and three wins from six previous qualifying meetings, including the recent 1-0 victory at Shenzhen, hosts Iraq enter the contest with a clear mental edge but a 1-0 friendly defeat to Lebanon in the build-up sounds a warning note for Zico's charges.
Towering striker Han Peng has returned to enhance China's firepower but the east Asians have suffered an unexpected blow at the back with both defenders Du Wei and Feng Xiaoting ruled out due to injuries. However, they can take heart from a 1-1 away draw against Iraq in the campaign for South Africa 2010, with Zheng Zhi, who equalised for China in that game, encouraging his team-mates to believe in themselves. "We must be confident and trust each other," he said. "We can defeat Iraq if we play well as a team."
With a third win likely to seal their place among the section's top two, Iraq captain Younis Mahmoud warned his team against complacency. "We won the previous match because we weathered China's attacking storms before grabbing the only goal," said the Iraqi striking ace who scored the winning goal in Shenzhen. "China are dangerous when they go forward from flanks so we can't underestimate them."
The other attractions
Should China lose or draw, Group A leaders Jordan can make history by defeating Singapore and progressing to the fourth stage for the first time in history. "Beating Singapore and making the fans happy is our priority," striker Abdullah Deeb told FIFA.com recently. "We aim to not only qualify but also win the group."
In Group B, front-runners Korea Republic will cement their place at the top with a win in United Arab Emirates, with the result to condemn the hosts to an unlikely early elimination should Kuwait defeat Lebanon in the other game. While the Gulf side will spare nothing to salvage a lifeline against the Taeguk Warriors, Kuwait are expecting to make their home advantage count against Lebanon as they seek too gain the ascendency in the battle for the second spot.
The situation in Group C looks much more straightforward, with victories enough to see joint leaders Japan and Uzbekistan through together at the expense of Tajikistan and Korea DPR respectively. Boosted by their previous 8-0 demolition of the central Asians, the Japanese are expected to continue their rampaging form in their second of their back-to-back meetings. Despite their 1-0 win in Pyongyang, though, the Uzbeks must remain wary of the visitors' famed resilience.
A fourth win in Oman is enough to seal Australia's qualification from Group D regardless of the other result and the Socceroos have received a timely boost with former Liverpool star Harry Kewell back in Holger Osieck's line-up. The other game at Riyadh pits hosts Saudi Arabia against second-placed Thailand, the tournament's biggest surprise packages. The Thais are seeking to progress to the qualifying final round for the first time since 2002.
Elsewhere, Group E pace-setters Iran can strengthen their grip on the section with a win in Bahrain. Meanwhile, Qatar will be optimistic of making light work of visiting Indonesia, with a win enough to cement second position and end the dreams of the south-east Asians.
Player to watch
Despite struggling for playing time with Arsenal, Korea Republic captain Park Chu-Young has maintained his prolific form on the qualifying scene, having scored five times so far to rank second on the tournament's scoring chart, only two goals shy of Vietnam's Le Cong Vinh.
5 - An early progression will mark Uzbekistan’s fifth consecutive appearance in Asia’s final qualifying round since the central Asians joined the AFC.
Third qualifying round matchday 4 fixtures
Group A: Jordan-Singapore, Iraq-China PR
Group B: Kuwait-Lebanon, United Arab Emirates-Korea Republic
Group C: Uzbekistan-Korea DPR, Tajikistan-Japan
Group D: Saudi Arabia-Thailand, Oman-Australia
Group E: Qatar-Indonesia, Bahrain-Iran