After a three-month hiatus, Asia's third qualifying round re-commences with the concluding matchday on Wednesday with eight teams battling for four remaining spots. Korea Republic and Lebanon are the hotly-tipped favourites to progress from Group B, while Saudi Arabia can make it through with a win in Australia. Qatar, meanwhile, need a point against Iran to guarantee their passage. Join FIFA.com as we preview the enticing showdowns across the continent.
*Korea Republic-Kuwait *
Korea Republic enters the home game as the clear favourites for more reasons than one. Historically, they boast two more wins than the west Asians from their six previous FIFA World Cup™ qualifying meetings, including a 4-0 demolition during the Germany 2006 campaign. Their impressive home record also adds to their mental edge, having defeated both Lebanon and United Arab Emirates on home soil. Mathematically, the hosts need just a point to progress at the opponents' expense. However, new manager Choi Kang-Hee is all too aware what the home supporters are expecting and after losing their last outing 2-1 in Beirut, they are under pressure to bounce back in style.
The former Jeonbuk Motors coach is renowned for his offensive tactics, and he has named a familiar squad which largely consists of K-League based players. The recent 4-2 friendly win over Uzbekistan, of course, provides them with a timely boost. Kuwait, meanwhile, drew 1-1 against Korea DPR before losing 2-0 to China PR in the build-up to add to coach Goran Tufegdzic's concerns.
The other attractions
In the other group match, Lebanon arrive in the UAE hoping to round off their impressive campaign in triumphant style. A win against the already-eliminated hosts will see them join the continent's elite in the final round for the first time. UAE may boast a proud head-to-head record with five wins to one in their previous nine meetings but the Lebanese have the necessary motivation to secure victory, with even Prime Minister Najib Miqati recently expressing his support.
In Group D, Saudi Arabia leads Oman and Thailand in the three-way battle for second spot. To avoid any complicated scenarios Frank Rijkaard's side must obtain three points in Australia but they can't underestimate the motivation of the already-qualified hosts, who enter the game desperate to prove themselves in front of their home fans, having lost 1-0 to Oman in November. In the other group game, Oman entertains Thailand with both sides needing not only a win, but the other result to fall in their favour. The Thais arrive at Muscat with a recent 3-0 friendly win over Maldives under their belts, while the Omanis can take heart from a 5-1 demolition of India.
Qatar are in the driving seat in the contention for Group E's second qualifying spot, with a point against qualified Iran enough to take them through. Any slip-up in Tehran, though, is likely to benefit Bahrain, who can secure an unlikely progression if they defeat Indonesia by a massive margin. The Qataris, now under Paulo Autuori, can count on forward Khalfan Ibrahim, the 2006 AFC Player of Year who has scored three times so far. The Bahrainis’ hopes, meanwhile, lie on the young shoulders of Ismaeel Abdullatif, who finished last year’s AFC Asian Cup as the second top-scorer with four goals.
Player to watch
With two fine goals against Uzbekistan, Lee Dong-Gook announced his return to the Korea Republic national team in emphatic fashion. Having failed to find the back of the net during South Africa 2010, the reigning K-League MVP is determined to prove himself against Kuwait.
The stat 2 - The closing matchday sees two newly appointed coaches in Choi Kang-Hee and Paulo Autuori tasked with reviving the fortunes of their respective teams.
What they said
“Although I was quite pleased with the progress we have made as a team so far, we still need additional experience, we still need additional quality. We want to win here, we are not here for fun,” Australia coach Holger Osieck
Third round, Matchday 6 fixtures:
*Wednesday 29 February *
Group A: China PR-Jordan, Iraq-Singapore
Group B: Korea Republic-Kuwait, United Arab Emirates-Lebanon
Group C: Japan-Uzbekistan, Tajikistan-Korea DPR
Group D: Oman-Thailand, Australia-Saudi Arabia
Group E: Iran-Qatar, Bahrain-Indonesia