Three automatic spots, and two play-off berths are on the line as Asia's fourth qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ goes down to the wire on Tuesday. In Group A, a point against Iran at home is enough to seal Korea Republic's eighth consecutive global appearance, while Uzbekistan face a must-win scenario against eliminated Qatar if they are to secure their maiden progression to football biggest stage.
Group B's Australia, meanwhile, entertain Iraq with the Socceroos well placed to qualify behind Japan. Should the hosts stumble, however, it will provide Oman, trailing by a single point, with a chance to take the second qualifying spot with a victory in Jordan.
It goes without saying that the game at Ulsan's Munsu Football Stadium holds more meaning than just Group A's top-of-the-standing clash. Over the past half century, the two sides have developed one of Asia's greatest rivalries, having locked horns in 26 meetings, including six FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
With the home side needing just a draw to advance, the pressure is largely on the visitors, who must win the match if they are to clinch an automatic spot and not be forced to worry about other results. Four years ago the two sides were pitted against each other in the same stage on the road to South Africa 2010, when an already-qualified Taeguk Warriors battled from behind to draw 1-1 with Team Melli - a result which shattered the Iranians' hopes.
Iran are at full strength while Korea Republic coach Choi Kanghee must make do without suspended Park Jongwoo and injured Kim Namil. Fortunately for the home supporters, though, captain Kwak Taehwi, who was replaced in the closing minutes against the Uzbeks, is fit to play.
The other attractions
With Korea Republic and Iran crossing swords, Uzbekistan welcome Qatar knowing they must claim a win to keep their hopes alive. A home victory may seal their place among the top-two finishers, while a defeat or draw means they must settle for third place and a play-off berth. Qatar, though, will undoubtedly not give up without a fight although coach Fahad Thani will be without top-striker Sebastian Soria who continues to be missing through injury, however, Wesam Rizki returns to bolster the midfield.
It has been a vastly different story for Australia this time around after the Socceroos cruised through to South Africa 2010 with two matches to spare. Australia hosts Iraq with the Socceroos leading a three-way race for Group A's second spot behind Japan, but a failure to win will open the door for both Jordan and Oman who clash in Amman. Holger Osieck's side have found their form recently, while the Iraqis received a major blow after talisman Younis Mahmoud elected to retire from international football.
Despite an unexpected 4-0 collapse against Australia, Jordan harbour hopes of a third-place play-off by defeating Oman at home. After conceding four unanswered goals in the last outing, coach Adnan Hamad will have to modify the back-line, with defending duo Khalil Bani Ateyah and Anas Bani Yaseen missing through suspension. It is, in a sense, the visitors that head into the concluder with greater motivations, with three points able to seal their first qualification if the Australians drop points. Paul Le Guen's side travel on the back of a 1-0 win against their Olympic side, and their hopes are boosted by the return of forward Imad Al Hosni from injury, although defenders Hassan Madhafar and Abdulsallam Amur are both suspended.
Player to watch
With Fulham striker Ashkan Dejagah missing through injury, Belgium-based Reza Ghoochannejhad has recently shouldered Iran’s goal-scoring responsibility. And the Standard Liege striker has well repaid Queiroz's faith in him, scoring the match-winner against Qatar before being on target again against Lebanon.
1 - Both Uzbekistan and Oman are aiming for their first-ever FIFA World Cup qualification, while Korea Republic will have to settle for a play-off if they finish behind the Central Asians and Iran.
What they said
"Nobody's in Brazil yet. We need one game, one win. Then we can start thinking about all the dreams coming true," Australia captain Lucas Neill