Korea Republic have been handed a tough task in the fourth and final round of Asian qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, drawn into a group of West Asian powerhouses. Including the South Koreans, Group 2 contains Iran, Saudi Arabia, Korea DPR, and the United Arab Emirates.
The section promises a series of mouthwatering clashes, with all five teams in the group having qualified for world football's showpiece event at least once. Korea Republic and Korea DPR renew their acquaintance following two goalless draws in the previous round, while Iran and Saudi Arabia will cross swords across the Gulf for the fourth time in the final phase. For their part, UAE will be hoping to qualify for the first time since Italy 1990.
Saudi Arabia. Since their debut on the world stage in 1994, the Saudis have always marched to the finals in style, winning the final group in all four previous regional qualifying campaigns. In fact, the Gulf side dominated the third stage of qualifying for Germany 2006, defeating Korea Republic twice in the process. Nasser Al Johar, who guided them through to Korea/Japan 2002, has returned to the coaching post and will be eager to repeat the feat with the help of his inspirational captain Yasser Al Qahtani.
Korea Republic. Asia's most frequent visitors to the world finals will be aiming for their seventh consecutive appearance. The Taeguk Warriors are gearing up for the final phase following their relatively lacklustre performances in the third round, and they will have to raise their game if they are to achieve their goal. In the past, however, the South Koreans have always shown an indomitable spirit at the business end of their qualifying campaigns.
Iran. Despite their sluggish start in the third round, the Iranians are more than capable of causing problems for their opponents in the group. Ali Daei has successfully transformed Team Melli into a formidable side after their tentative start to the qualifying journey, and no one will be foolish enough to underestimate the Persian giants.
Korea DPR. Having reached the final qualifying round for the second time in a row, the North Koreans are the team to watch in this tough-looking group. They boast the meanest defence of the final ten, having not conceded a single goal in the previous round, and their counter-attacks will be orchestrated by Serbian-based playmaker Hong Yong-Jo.
The players to watch
Park Ji-Sung (KOR), Lee Young-Pyo (KOR), Yasser Al Qahtani (KSA), Malek Maaz (KSA), Mehdi Mahdavikia (IRN), Ali Karimi (IRN), Hong Yong-Jo (PRK), Ismail Matar (UAE)
The crunch game
Korea Republic-Saudi Arabia: First place in the group could be at stake in this clash between East and West Asia. In their latest meetings in FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the Saudis emerged victorious on both occasions in 2005, defeating the Taeguk Warriors 2-0 at home and then 1-0 on the road. If history repeats itself, Korea Republic would find themselves facing an uphill struggle to qualify.
A look back
Saudi Arabia 4-3 Iran, 28 October 1993, Doha: In the final group stage of qualifying for USA 1994, the West Asian heavyweights met each other in the final game, and it was Saudi Arabia who grabbed all three points and a ticket to the USA. In many ways, that victory set the scene for the next few FIFA World Cup qualifying cycles, with the Saudis dominating the qualifiers and Iran often forced into inter-continental play-offs in order to qualify for the finals.
16, the total number of appearances in the finals of the five teams in Group B. Korea Republic lead the way with seven, Saudi Arabia is in second place with four, Iran have appeared three times, and Korea DPR and UAE have reached the big event once only.
*Did you know? *Korea Republic, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Korea DPR were all in the final qualifying group for Italy 1990, with the former two advancing to the finals.
In this group of East versus West, which sides will grab the two tickets to South Africa? Click below to 'Add your comment'.