Old rivals meet again as Asia's final qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ reaches the halfway mark on Tuesday. Notably, Iran entertain leaders Korea Republic in Group A's top-of-the-standing meeting, while in Group B Iraq and Australia resume their fast-developed rivalry in Doha, with both sides desperately seeking their opening win.
Elsewhere, Jordan arrives at Manama confident of prolonging their dominant head-to-head record against struggling Oman. Uzbekistan, meanwhile, travel to Qatar aiming to put their campaign back on track with three points. Join FIFA.com as we preview these enticing match-ups across the continent.
The game at Tehran represents one of Asia's greatest rivalries which has now spanned six decades, with the pair playing 25 matches, including five FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Although Korea Republic can boast two more wins, Iran have secured their share of crucial victories down the years.
A 1-1 draw in Seoul three years ago, which ended Team Melli's qualifying hopes for South Africa 2010, remains a painful memory for the Iranians. And new salt was rubbed into old wounds when the Koreans prevailed 1-0 over Iran during the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in their most recent meeting.
Revenge, though, will be on the hosts' minds. And Carlos Queiroz's side will be particularly motivated to bounce back, having been stunned 1-0 in Lebanon recently. To the Iranian fans' satisfaction, they have a full-strength line-up with the return of Fulham new acquisition Ashkan Dejagan, while Belgium-based striker Reza Ghoochannejhad is likely to reinforce the attacking-line in his international debut.
The visitors, meanwhile, have fixed their sights on making history with their first-ever win at the Azadi Stadium. Having dropped veteran striker Lee Donggook, coach Choi Kanghee has called up in-form Hamburg marksman Son Heungmin. At the back, Yun Sukyoung and Shin Kwanghoon are likely to shore up the defence alongside Kwak Taehwi, who will return as captain following the omission of Lee Jungsoo.
The other attractions
Any slip-up by Iran will be welcomed by Qatar, who can move into the section's top two with a home win over bottom side Uzbekistan. However, Paulo Autuori's hosts must push aside their lacklustre form which saw them draw 1-1 against firstly Oman, and then Jordan, during the build-up. Adding to their concerns, defender Ibrahim Majed will miss the game through suspension, while forward Yusef Ahmed remains a doubt with injury. Knowing that a win is important to their diminishing hopes, the visitors arrive in Doha hoping to emulate their feat of a 2-0 win in the continental finals last year. However, the Central Asians twice came from behind to draw 2-2 against United Arab Emirates in a recent friendly, adding to coach Mirdjalal Kasimov's concerns.
Level on two points each, Iraq and Australia meet in their fifth FIFA World Cup qualifying meeting, with both anxious to revive their fortunes with a first triumph. Despite conceding six unanswered goals against Brazil recently, the Iraqis remain one of the toughest rivals for the Socceroos on the Asian scene. To the pleasure of coach Zico, a series of key players including midfielder Samer Saeed and forward Mustafa Kareem are back from injury, although Karrar Jassim is sidelined for disciplinary reasons. Holger Osieck's visitors, for their part, arrived in Doha a week early to acclimatise. The Socceroos have Matthew Spiranovic set to replace the injured Sasa Ognenovski in central defence and midfielder Carl Valeri coming in for David Carney, while midfielder Mark Bresciano is likely to provide the decisive attacking spark.
Boosted by their 2-1 upset win over Australia, Jordan travels to Oman expecting to cement their runners-up place behind Japan with three points. And the visitors' confidence is not unfounded, with their record of nine wins to three providing them with a clear mental edge. Coach Adnan Hamad will be pleased to see the return of striking duo Abdullah Deeb and Tha'er Bawab, although they must make do without goalkeeper Amer Shafi and defender Basem Fathi through suspension. Facing a must-win match, though, the hosts' hopes were dealt a blow by the unexpected losses of midfielder Ahmed Hadid and striker Hussain Al Hadhri through injury, while Abdulsalam Amur is also missing the showdown through suspension. But star striker Emad Al Hosni has proved his fitness and looks likely to shoulder the goalscoring tasks as coach Paul Le Guen's charges desperately seek a win.
Player to watch
Having been on target as Uzbekistan swept past Qatar in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup opener, two-time AFC Player of the Year Server Djeparov returns to Doha hoping to relive his heroics from last year.
What they said
“The match against Uzbekistan will not be easy but we must defeat them. Only a victory can put us in the group's second position. We must take advantage of playing at home and I hope our fans will show up in big numbers to support us,” Qatar coach Paulo Autuori