Pivotal clashes take centre stage in Asia
Asian qualifying reaches the halfway mark in this month's double headers
Leaders Iran and Saudi Arabia face away tasks in Group A and B respectively
Australia entertain Saudi Arabia in an eye-catching top-of-the-table clash
Front-runners IR Iran and Saudi Arabia face challenging away matches as Asia's third round of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ reaches the halfway mark with matchdays 5 and 6.
With a two-point cushion at the top of Group A, Dragan Skocic's Team Melli take on hosts Lebanon before travelling to Jordan to face Syria as they aim to strengthen their lead with maximum points. Herve Renard's Green Falcons, too, enter a pair of tricky away games in Vietnam and Australia seeking to cement their place at the summit of Group B.
Elsewhere, Japan travel to Vietnam and Oman determined to put their stuttering campaign back on track, while Korea Republic welcome United Arab Emirates before tackling Iraq in neutral Doha as they hope to maintain their place in the top two.
Group A 11 November Korea Republic-United Arab Emirates Lebanon-Iran Iraq-Syria 16 November Syria-Iran Lebanon-United Arab Emirates Iraq-Korea Republic Group B 11 November Australia-Saudi Arabia Vietnam-Japan China PR-Oman 16 November China PR-Australia Vietnam-Saudi Arabia Oman-Japan
Australia - Saudi Arabia Group B's top-of-the-table clash takes centre stage for more reasons than one. It is the two sides' fifth qualifying meeting. It marks the first time that Australia will play on home soil, not only in the third round, but since October 2019. It is a pivotal game where the hosts can restore their front-runners place in this section with victory.
Having won three and drawn one from their four previous meetings, Graham Arnold's Socceroos enter the match-up hoping to build on their proud record. However, they must make do with the absence of Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy and Adam Taggart who are sidelined due to injuries or quarantine reasons. Herve Renard's visitors, meanwhile, arrive in Sydney also with a notable absentee in goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais who is nursing an injury. Of course, their hopes of maintaining their perfect record in this campaign will be boosted by the return of midfielder Salem Al Dossary and defender Mohammed Al Burayk.
The other attractions
Also in Group B, Japan visit Vietnam for an historic date in Hanoi in what is the two sides' first qualifying meeting, before Samurai Blue travel to Oman seeking to avenge their shock opening loss. With Takefusa Kubo remaining absent due to injury, coach Hajime Moriyasu called up Daizen Maeda and Ayase Ueda to reinforce the attacking-line alongside joint top-scorers Yuya Osako and Takuma Asano.
China PR, who will continue to use Sharjah Stadium, will welcome Oman and Australia to neutral United Arab Emirates desperately seeking to re-ignite their hopes with good results. Coach Li Tie will hope there are positive omens from the Korea/Republic 2002 campaign when the former Chinese international was amongst the side which won both away and home against Oman, with the latter - a 1-0 victory - sealing their maiden FIFA World Cup qualification.
In Group A, Iran travel to Lebanon notably without star striker Mehdi Taremi. While Dragan Skocic's visitors face up to the third-placed team looking to extend their lead, they will be mindful of the hosts strong home form, including a famous 1-0 win over Team Melli in the same stage on the road to Brazil 2014 when Roda Antar netted the only goal.
Should Ivan Hasek's Cedars emulate the feat against the Iranians, Tuesday’s home match against United Arab Emirates shapes as pivotal.
Trailing leaders Iran by two points, Korea Republic face United Arab Emirates at home and Iraq knowing they have the opportunity to jump clear of their rivals in the hunt for a qualification ticket. With Kwon Changhoon remaining missing and Bordeaux striker Hwang Uijo excluded due to injury, coach Paulo Bento called up Suwon Bluewings striker Kim Gunhee as a replacement to join the attack alongside talisman Son Heungmin. At the back, veteran Kim Younggwon remains a doubt, but Park Jisu looks ready to form the central defence alongside Kim Minjae in his absence.
Did you know?
Australia's match on Thursday in Sydney will mark 763 days since the Socceroos last played at home.
What they said
"The United Arab Emirates game will be difficult for us. We are going to face a team that play really well. It's a team that offensively have very good principles. [So] one of the key points for this game is how we are going to perform in the defensive way," Korea Republic head coach Paulo Bento
"The players selected for our upcoming FIFA window are brimming with excitement to return home and to play in front of Australian supporters, as well as their family and friends. They will get so much energy from playing in front of a strong home crowd at a first class stadium," Australia head coach Graham Arnold