Crunch ties loom large in Asia

  • Old foes reunite on matchdays 3 and 4

  • Leaders IR Iran entertain Korea Republic while Group B leaders, Australia, play Oman and Japan

  • Bottom side China PR take on Vietnam aiming to salvage a lifeline

The race to Qatar 2022 picks up pace in Asia as the continent's third qualifying round reaches matchdays 3 and 4. With two games to play on 7 and 12 October, the leaders enter these games aiming to consolidate their place at the top.

Group A front-runners IR Iran arrive in the United Arab Emirates hoping to continue their unblemished record before entertaining Korea Republic in what looks like a pivotal battle. Group B leaders Australia, too, tackle Oman in neutral Qatar before travelling to Japan to take on Samurai Blue in what will be their ninth qualifying meeting.

At the bottom of Group B, pointless China PR and Vietnam do battle in neutral UAE with both sides seeking to salvage a lifeline with their first points. Iraq and Lebanon from Group A, with just a point each, meet in Qatar as they aim to reignite their hopes of qualification with a victory. Join as we take a closer look at the action ahead.

Overview of matchdays 3 and 4

Group A: 7 October: Korea Republic - Syria United Arab Emirates - IR Iran Iraq - Lebanon

12 October: IR Iran - Korea Republic United Arab Emirates - Iraq Syria - Lebanon

Group B: 7 October: Australia - Oman Saudi Arabia - Japan China PR - Vietnam

12 October Japan - Australia Saudi Arabia - China PR Oman - Vietnam

The match

IR Iran - Korea Republic, Azadi Stadium, Tehran 17:00 (Local time) 12 October 2021 Currently the top two sides in Group A, IR Iran and Korea Republic's classic rivalry needs no introduction, having met nine times in FIFA World Cup qualifying across four decades. It is hosts IR Iran, however, who have boasted a clear mental edge having been unbeaten since 2009. Team Melli have come up with three wins and three draws in the past six qualifying meetings. With a full-strength side at his disposal, Dragan Skocic has his sights fixed firmly on obtaining three points as they seek to build on their proud record.

The visitors, for their part, enter the meeting on matchday 4 keen on seeking revenge of sorts with victory. Paulo Bento's Taegeuk Warriors, whose last win against IR Iran was a 3-0 triumph in qualifying for USA 1994, will look to their star striker Son Heungmin but they have to make do with the absence of injured forward Kwon Changhoon, who scored the only goal against Lebanon in their previous outing.

The other attractions

Also in Group A, third-place United Arab Emirates will look to the goalscoring form of ace striker Ali Mabkhout as they welcome first IR Iran and then Iraq seeking their first victory in the decisive stage. The 31-year-old Al Jazira marksman, who was on target in a 1-1 draw against Syria in the last outing, enters the matchdays in fine form after he struck the match-winner against Al Orooba lately with his 174th league goal.

Despite registering just a point in the opening two fixtures, Syria travel to Korea Republic before taking on Lebanon in Jordan, hoping to relive the form which had seen them emerge as the surprise packages four years ago during this stage. And the side's hopes will be bolstered by the return of captain Omar Al Soma, the team's top scorer who missed their last five matches due to injury.

With two opening wins, Group B leaders Australia's hopes will be to maintain their good run. The Socceroos, however, face a pair of uphill battles against in-form Oman and then arch-rivals Japan. In order to keep their backline tight, coach Graham Arnold has called up Sunderland defender Bailey Wright as they aim to strengthen their grip on the section with further points.

Joint Group B leaders Saudi Arabia, too, have to keep wary of Japan and China PR despite playing as hosts against both sides. Of course, Herve Renard's hosts will look to midfielder Fahad Al Muwallad who scored the match-winning goal against Japan which sealed their qualification for Russia 2018. The 27-year-old Al Ittihad attacker, who provided the assist for their winning-goal against Oman in the last outing, was on target in his club's recent 6-1 defeat of Abha.

Elsewhere, China PR and Vietnam cross swords on matchday 3 in a game that neither side can afford to lose having suffered two opening defeats each. Li Tie's Team Dragon enter the game on the back of a 1-1 draw against Syria in a recent warm-up match and they can take heart from their past record which saw them win both home (4-0) and away (3-1) games on the road to France 1998. Boosted by their improved form, however, Park Hangseo's Golden Star Warriors enter the fray with high hopes of springing a surprise.

What they said

"The qualifying campaign [at this stage] is not easy. We face the best teams in Asia. I never said that the team's objective is to go to the World Cup. But it is not impossible.” Park Hangseo, Vietnam head coach

"At the moment, we have a great squad. I think we have a great mix of experience. We push each other in every training, all the players give 100 per cent. Our main goal is as a nation, as a group of players, it's just to get to that World Cup.” Australia defender Aziz Behich

Did you know?

China PR are unbeaten against Saudi Arabia in World Cup qualifying, having racked up four wins and a draw in the past five meetings from 1982 to 1998.