"The best steel is used for a knife's edge" is a Chinese proverb which defines the significance of the elite. If the east Asian wisdom is anything to go by, it seems that the continent's ace-strikers are set to rise to the occasion and help their respective sides in Wednesday’s concluding matchday of the continent's third qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Indeed, with four qualifying spots still up for grabs, the eight respective teams are counting on their top guns as they seek to round off their campaign in triumph.
Return of the Lion King
For those who follow Korea Republic closely, the recent return of striker Lee Dong-Gook, nicknamed the Lion King, is a sign of intent from newly-appointed coach Choi Kang-Hee. Having suffered a surprise 2-1 defeat by Lebanon in a result which cost Cho Kwang-Rae his job, the Taeguk Warriors need at least a draw against Kuwait at home to qualify.
With so much at stake in his first competitive game in charge, Choi, who managed K-League giants Jeonbuk Motors before taking over the national side, has opted to stick with the players he knows best for the Kuwait decider. Lee, who has won two K-League titles in the past three years under Choi, earns his place in the national side in preference to the likes of Sunderland's Ji Dong-Won and Augsburg's Koo Ja-Cheol.
Recent years have seen the evergreen 32-year-old thriving with Jeonbuk. Aside from dominating the K-League's scoring chart, even more impressive is his form on the continental scene, which saw him finish last year's AFC Champions League as the top-scorer with nine goals as his side narrowly missed the title. "He (Lee) is the first man in my mind at the moment," said Choi. "He has twice won the League's MVP in the past three seasons with me."
Earning only his third national team call-up since the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Lee, who is expected to form a formidable attacking line with Arsenal forward Park Chu-Young, sees the return as a precious chance to re-establish himself on the international scene. "I think he (Choi) wants me to do the same thing that I've been doing with Jeonbuk," he said. "I'm ready to prove myself even if he told me to do something different."
Sniper poised to blaze
Also seeking to live up to a sizeable reputation is Saudi Arabia’s long-standing talisman Yasser Al Qahtani, whose team face a must-win scenario against the already-qualified Australia if they are to secure the section’s second berth. Dubbed as the Sniper by media and fans alike, the 29-year-old has yet to find the target in their campaign for Brazil 2014 with the Saudis recording just one win and three draws. However, recent form with Al Ain, suggests Al Qahtani still knows how to find the back of the net.
Since joining the United Arab Emirates heavyweights last year, he has been on target seven times in 14 appearances with his side enjoying a five-point lead at the summit. Needless to say, he is expectant about breaking his tournament duck against the Socceroos and propelling his team through. “We have limited options against Australia but to win,” he said, “We must get the maximum points to avoid any complicated scenarios as Oman also target a victory over Thailand.”
Elsewhere, having netted the only goal in their spirited away win in Kuwait, Lebanon striker Mahmoud El Ali is hoping to add to his tally against the already-eliminated United Arab Emirates. Sitting third on the domestic league's scoring-chart with seven goals, the in-form Al Ahed marksman is confident they can obtain the necessary three points to seal an unforeseen qualifying spot. He said: "Our joy won't be complete unless we fulfill the qualifying mission. We will do our best to satisfy our fans and bring all Lebanese people together through our performance."