Asia is likely to see its second qualified team for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ when Korea Republic entertain Uzbekistan in a Group A top-of-the-standing clash in Tuesday’s penultimate round. The visitors, trailing the hosts on goal difference, can seal their first-ever qualification for the global extravaganza with three points, while the home side must win and also hope Iran lose to the already-eliminated Lebanon to secure their passage.
In Group B, Australia and Jordan, level on seven points, do battle in a crucial match-up in Melbourne with each side seeking to edge second-placed Oman and enhance their hopes of claiming second spot behind Japan. Bottom side Iraq, meanwhile, welcome the Japanese still harbouring a slither of hope.
Home side Korea Republic, at least on paper, enter the re-match with a mental edge having never lost to the Central Asians since 1994, including negotiating out a 2-2 stalemate in Tashkent last time around. But their recent qualifying form suggests otherwise, with Mirdjalal Kasimov's visitors going five matches undefeated, while Korea Republic have grabbed just a single win from their four past outings.
With their maiden FIFA World Cup appearance beckoning, the Uzbeks have no shortage of motivation. And a 2-1 recent defeat of China PR has provided the While Wolves with a timely boost. Kasimov seems set to stick with his campaign-hardened backbone whom have contributed to winning the three recent qualifiers. Adding to that, they can count on some key players' knowledge of their rivals, with captain Server Djeparov, midfielder Timur Kapadze and Aleksander Geynrikh all boasting experiences of playing in K League. Despite the disappointing 1-1 draw in Lebanon, coach Choi is unlikely to reshuffle his line-up, with familiar seasoned veterans expected to maintain their starting places. Spearheading the attacking line-up should be Lee Donggook from Jeonbuk Motors, while recently-returned Kim Namil will continue to shore up the defence. Reigning AFC Player of the Year Lee Keunho will aim to pierce holes in the Uzbek backline with his surging runs, while super-sub Son Heungmin adds to the hosts' options upfront.
The other attractions
With Korea Republic and Uzbekistan crossing paths in Seoul, Iran welcome Lebanon confident of returning to the section's top two with a home victory. Carlos Queiroz's hosts can, indeed, see their hopes further enhanced with three points but, having seen how the Taeguk Warriors were made to sweat in Beirut last Tuesday, Team Melli will be all too aware they mustn't take anything for granted against the Cedars, a side against whom they lost the first leg in unexpected fashion. Though having only pride to play for, the Lebanese won't give up without with fight in their closing match, although they must make do without injured defender Yousef Mohamad while Waleed Ismail, Haytham Faour and Mohamad Haidar are all missing through suspension.
Having featured in the past two FIFA World Cups, Australia see their qualifying hopes hanging in the balance. Trailing inactive Oman by two points, Holger Osieck's hosts face a must-win against Jordan if they are to take the group's second automatic spot behind Japan. Leading the visitors on goal difference, the Socceroos are hoping to further improve on last week’s 1-1 draw in Japan, but the Jordanians will be buoyed by their surprise 2-1 first-leg victory. Entering the re-match on the back of their spirited defeat of Japan and a 1-0 win against New Zealand 'A', Adnan Hamad's side have also been boosted by the return of defender Baha Abdulrahman, although Hassan Abdel Fattah is ruled out.
Elsewhere in the group, Japan face Iraq hoping to wrap up their campaign with a win and enjoy a confidence boost ahead of their FIFA Confederations Cup opener against Brazil. The Iraqi side are, however, desperately seeking to maintain their already-diminishing hopes with a second victory in this competition.
Player to watch
Server Djeparov is expected to continue his inspirational role with Uzbekistan, having skippered his side through to the verge of a historic qualification. The two-time AFC Player of the Year winner, who joined Seongnam Chunma this season off the back of his spell with FC Seoul in 2011, possesses the vision, technique and experience needed to succeed against Korea Republic.
The stat 4 - A quartet of sides - Japan, Australia, Korea Republic and Uzbekistan - enter the penultimate matchday having suffered a single defeat apiece.
What they said
"We have come close to qualifying in the past and the whole country is really hoping that this time we can make the final step. It would be a very proud day to see Uzbekistan at the World Cup and playing against the best teams in the world," Uzbek Football Federation President Mirabror Usmanov