2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™

11 June - 11 July

2010 FIFA World Cup™

Asian giants target opening wins

Having represented the continent at the previous FIFA World Cups™ in Germany 2006, Asia's big five, namely Australia, Korea Republic, Japan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, are targeting emphatic wins as they open their qualifying campaigns for South Africa 2010 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile Iraq, Asia's newly crowned champions, are also hoping to prove their status as a rising power in the crunch tie against China, who are determined to book their second appearance at world football's showpiece event. FIFA.com casts an eye over all the action.

Socceroos wary of Qatari challenge Australia-Qatar, Telstra Dome, 6 February, 19:30 (local time)

After disappointing at their debut at the AFC Asian Cup in July, Australia have learned the lessons that no continental rivals can be underestimated. The fact that they lost to Kuwait 2-0 in the qualifying campaign before being stunned by Iraq 3-1 in the continental finals highlights their lack of preparation on their Asian rivals, particularly those from the Gulf region.

The FIFA World Cup qualifying opener against Qatar, therefore, provides new coach Pim Verbeek and his charges with the opportunity to prove their potential. However, the boss will be without European-based trio Nick Carle, Harry Kewell and Michael Beauchamp, while Mark Milligan will also miss the game after breaking his nose in training. Added to this, a lack of competitive games in their build-up to the qualifier may see them fail to enter the competition in their best possible shape.

New Year's Eve excites China Iraq-China, Dubai, 6 February, 16:30 (local time)

For millions of fans across China, an away victory against Iraq on the country's Lunar New Year's Eve will be the climax of the festivities surrounding their most important annual holiday. It will not be the first time that China have locked horns with the Iraqis in a FIFA World Cup qualifier, as the two sides met in the run-up to USA 1994. Their latest meetings came in 2007 AFC Asian Cup qualifying with Iraq earning four points against the Socceroos.

History aside, China boast a 3-0 victory over Iraq in a quarter-final clash in the 2004 Asian Cup. While Iraq are favourites to win, former China captain Fan Zhiyi is confident that his his team will give good account. "Iraq are a competitive team," he said. "But I predict that China can at least come up with a draw because playing against tough opposition will unlock more of our potential."

In-form Japan await Thailand Japan-Thailand, Saitama, 6 February, 19:20(local time)

A 3-0 win over Bosnia in their last warm-up match six days ahead of the opening qualifying fixture underlines the good work Japan coach Takeshi Okada has been doing since taking over in November. Four days earlier, Okada saw his first match in charge end in a 1-1 draw against Chile. "The Chileans put pressures on us throughout the entire 90 minutes and it was a very good experience for us," the coach said.

In the Thai camp, however, spirits are high after coach Chanvit Phalajivin's team rounded off their preparations with a 2-0 victory over Korean club giants Jeonbuk Motors FC. Team manager Kittiratt Na Ranong said his side are prepared to mount a serious challenge against Japan: "Although we are underdogs, I really believe we have a chance of beating them."

Competitive bow for Huh Korea Republic-Turkmenistan, Seoul, 6 February, 20:00(local time)

The first home-grown coach in charge of Korea Republic in six years, coach Huh Jung-Moo is expecting to mark his return to the national post with a resounding victory over Turkmenistan. However, a 1-0 loss against Chile in the team's last friendly shows Huh has his work cut out if the Taeguk Warriors are to feature in their seventh consecutive world finals.

An inability to convert chances in front of goal remains a problem for Huh's team, who are looking to end a 506-minute goal drought by scoring against Turkmenistan. "We need to be a bit sharper in the box," Huh remarked. "The players must work harder to win possession and improve their team work."

Singapore try to step up
Saudi Arabia-Singapore, Riyadh, 6 February, 20:15(local time)

Despite playing away against three-time Asian champions Saudi Arabia, coach Radojko Avramovic's Singapore are not thinking of returning home empty-handed. With a series of impressive performances in the build-up to the game, including a shock 2-0 win against nine-time Gulf champions Kuwait, the Lions are more than capable of pulling off an upset.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia showed they are well prepared for the game after defeating European side Luxembourg in a recent friendly, captain Yasser Al Qahtani sealing the 2-1 win with a late goal in the second half.

Iran look for double delight
Iran-Syria, Tehran, 6 February, 15:00(local time)

Iran go into the encounter with Syria under the guidance of a new coach, recent hire Javier Clemente of Spain. A victory in Tehran on Wednesday would mark a good beginning for Team Melli's new era under the former Serbia boss.

That does not mean, however, that Syria are a side which they can put to the sword with ease. As history shows, they have slipped up before against so-called 'lesser' opposition, a lesson they learned from the 3-1 loss to Bahrain in a crucial qualifier for Korea/Japan 2002.

Fixtures, Matchday 1
Wednesday 6 February

*Group 1 * Australia-Qatar

*Group 2 * Japan-Thailand

*Group 3 * Korea Republic-Turkmenistan
Jordan-Korea DPR

*Group 4 * Saudi Arabia-Singapore

*Group 5 * Iran-Syria
United Arab Emirates-Kuwait

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