Korea Republic will once again face long-time nemesis Iran in the final round of the Asian Zone qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. The Taeguk Warriors have crossed swords with the Iranians in various competitions across the continent down the years, most recently in the final stage of qualifiers for South Africa 2010. On that occasion they fought out 1-1 stalemates in both matches, although their next meeting ended in favour of the South Koreans, who emerged victorious from an epic quarter-final in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.
Elsewhere in the group, central Asian powerhouse Uzbekistan will be looking to build on their hitherto impressive performances, having won their third round section ahead of reigning Asian champions Japan. It will be also interesting to see whether Qatar and Lebanon are capable of repeating their giant-killing habits against some of the continent’s heavyweights in this tough looking group.
Korea Republic: Having qualified for every FIFA World Cup since Mexico 1986, the South Koreans are regarded as strong favourites to advance from this section and make their ninth successive appearance on the world stage. However, the Taeguk Warriors will be taking nothing for granted, with coach Choi Kang-Hee currently leading a major rebuilding process following their less-than-impressive showings in the previous round. Finding the right combination in their talented midfield will likely be the key to the success, both in qualifying and in putting together a fresh team based on a new generation.
Iran: After narrowly missing out on a place at South Africa 2010, Iran are determined to return to world football’s showpiece event under the guidance of Carlos Queiroz. The Iranians boast one of the most formidable squads in the continent, with the likes of captain Javad Nekounam and Masoud Shojaei pulling the strings in midfield.
Uzbekistan: In a sense, it could be inappropriate to mention the Uzbeks as outsiders in this group given that they have established themselves as strong contenders to challenge Asia’s elite in recent years. The central Asians finished fourth in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup after a series of outstanding performances before going on to clinch their berth in the final qualifying for Brazil 2014 in style. In fact, having seen off Japan in the last round, Uzbekistan will strongly fancy their chances of upsetting Korea Republic or Iran as they seek a ticket to Brazil 2014, and a place in history.
Lebanon: The west Asians are no longer regarded as minnows after their fairy tale run to this stage, which included a famous 2-1 defeat of Korea Republic in Beirut. Their defensively disciplined approach to the game will come under scrutiny, however, particularly as the Lebanese are making their debut in the final round against a clutch of tough opponents.
Qatar: The Gulf nation have been in inconsistent form since their quarter-final finish at the continental championship on home soil. But in the previous qualifying round, the Qataris proved themselves with a couple of creditable draws against Iran that eventually earned them a place in this stage. However, it remains to be seen - on the back of some coaching changes - whether they can go further than they did more than two decades ago, when they came within a whisker of reaching Italy 1990.
The players to watch
Kwak Tae-Hwi (KOR), Ki Sung-Yueng (KOR), Lee Dong-Gook (KOR), Javad Nekounam (IRN), Masoud Shojaei (IRN), Server Djeparov (UZB), Alexander Geynrikh (UZB), Sebastian Soria (QAT), Hussein Yasser (QAT), Roda Antar (LIB), Hassan Maatouk (LIB)
The crunch match
Whenever these sides meet, there is an intense atmosphere that speaks of the tremendous rivalry created by this clash between east and west. In their previous meetings en route to South Africa, the Iranians opened the scoring before the South Koreans restored parity on both occasions. This time around, the outcome of the sides’ fixtures is likely to decide the winners of this group.
A look back
Korea Republic 1-1 Iran, 17 June 2009, Seoul
Four months after Park Ji-Sung cancelled out Javad Nekounam’s opening goal in Tehran, the Taeguk Warriors - already qualified - welcomed Iran to Seoul’s World Cup Stadium. Masoud Shojaei kept the visitors’ hopes alive with a clinical finish early in the second half, only for Park to equalise with eight minutes remaining and consign the Iranians to elimination.
17 – Iran proved to be the most prolific team of the third qualifying round, netting no fewer than 17 times, with Nekounam, Karim Ansarifard and Mojtaba Jabari all grabbing three apiece.
Did you know?
Korea Republic and Iran are evenly matched after their previous 25 encounters, with each showing nine wins and seven draws.
Have your say
Which will be the first of Group A’s teams to qualify for Brazil 2014?