Bahrain regroup for Asian challenge
Bahrain need to pick themselves up after their crushing disappointment at missing out on the FIFA World Cup™, as Thailand look to rub salt into Singapore's wounds in AFC Asian Cup qualifying on Wednesday.
Milan Macala's side were devastated after their 1-0 loss to New Zealand in the Asia-Oceania FIFA World Cup play-off on Saturday that deprived them of a place at the showpiece tournament. It was the second time they have fallen at the final hurdle, having lost to Trinidad and Tobago in the play-offs four years ago, and the 66-year-old Czech's job is on the line.
Macala has refused to comment since the game but knows nothing less than victory against Yemen on Wednesday will be tolerated. Bahrain though are well-placed to make the 2011 Asian Cup finals in Qatar, with maximum points from two games.
They jointly top Group A with Asian powerhouse Japan, who have played a game more and need to beat Hong Kong to maintain their challenge. Japan coach Takeshi Okada has decided to take all five of his Europe-based players from Port Elizabeth to the Chinese territory after an uninspiring 0-0 away draw against South Africa on Saturday.
This includes Shunsuke Nakamura, who has been struggling to establish himself in Espanyol's midfield. "I care about the Japanese national team. I don't want to be made an exception. I must do what everybody else does," the 31-year-old told Japanese media.
Bryan Robson's Thailand, meanwhile, are on a high after beating Singapore 3-1 on Saturday and victory in the return leg in Bangkok will see them leapfrog Iran to top Group E. However, the former England captain will be without goalkeeper Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool and playmaker Natthaphong Samana, who are both suspended. There are also concerns that midfielder Surat Sukha may not be fit.
Robson told Thai media that although pleased with the win, he was not happy with their concentration levels which allowed Singapore to get a late goal. "The players have learned a lesson and must concentrate the full 90 minutes," he said.
In the other group game, bottom-of-the-table Jordan play Iran on Sunday. Elsewhere, underachieving China host Lebanon, having beaten them 2-0 in Beirut at the weekend to leave them second in Group D with six points.
Group leaders Syria maintained their 100 per cent record with a win over Vietnam. If Syria beat the Vietnamese in the return leg, they will become the first team to secure their place in Qatar, joining the hosts as well as Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Korea Republic.
Those teams go through automatically as the top three finishers in the 2007 tournament. India have also qualified after winning the AFC Challenge Cup last year. In other games, Kuwait travel to Indonesia with defeat for the Southeast Asian nation virtually ending any hopes they have of making the finals.
Kuwait are second in the group on six points, one behind Australia, who do not play. In Group C, basement team Malaysia host table-topping Uzbekistan.