Australia, Japan, Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia cruised to comfortable home victories as the third round of Asian Zone qualifying to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ got underway last month. The heavyweight quartet will all face altogether tougher challenges, however, when they hit the road in search of Matchday 2 victories on Wednesday.
The Socceroos travel to Kunming to challenge China PR, while Japan, under Takeshi Okada, face a fanatical home crowd in Bahrain. Qatar and Thailand, meantime, the opening round's losing sides, will strive for maiden wins when they entertain Iraq and Oman respectively. FIFA.com looks ahead to the action.
Australia look to build, Iraq seek kick-start
Australia swept aside Qatar 3-0 on their debut in the FIFA World Cup's AFC preliminaries, and their goal will be no less than making it maximum points from two outings in China. Coach Pim Verbeek will, though, be without a number of players who served him so admirably in their opener. Craig Moore announced his retirement after the Qatar game, while Joshua Kennedy, Tim Cahill, Brett Emerton and Scott McDonald have all been ruled out by injury.
With an influx of Australian A-League players into his squad, Verbeek is nonetheless confident of improving his side's impressive record of five wins from seven games against the Chinese. "We have come here for three points and our goal is unlikely to change," he said.
China, on the other hand, can take heart from their impressive performances at home over the past 11 years, during which they have won all 12 of their FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Moreover, they will be able to count upon their high fitness levels as they look to surprise their rivals.
If their AFC Asian Cup 2007 triumph is anything to go by, Iraq, under the newly appointed Adnan Hamad, have what it takes to achieve victory in Qatar. The Iraqis can also bank on the vast experience of their coach, who was responsible for laying the foundations for their emergence.
Hamad has not been afforded much time to impose his influence, but he swiftly introduced Arbil striker Ahmad Salah to enhance the attack. However, their recent 0-0 draw against Kuwait showed they still have work to do if they are to rediscover the form that made them kings of the continent last year.
*Bahrain and Thailand thinking big * Bahrain coach Milan Macala will cross paths with Japan for the sixth time in Manama. His first experience against the East Asians came in the Asian Cup 1996 when he, then in charge of Kuwait, masterminded a 2-0 victory. But the tables were turned in the same competition four years later when his Saudi Arabia side suffered a 4-1 defeat by the Japanese, which ultimately cost Macala his job. The tactician went on to take the Oman reins, thereafter overseeing their three 1-0 defeats to Japan in 2004, including a pair of FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
With Macala determined to take revenge, Bahrain will also be counting on three points to strengthen their place in the section. They will go into the match in high spirits following a 1-0 friendly win over Ali Daei's new-look Iran. However, Takeshi Okada's Japan are also in good shape after defeating United Arab Emirates 2-0 in a warm-up, with Naohiro Takahara and Yoshito Okubo on target.
A 3-3 draw against China in a recent friendly came as a massive morale-boost for Thailand, who are looking for their first win against Oman on Wednesday. Despite losing 4-1 at the hands of Japan in their third round curtain-raiser last month, the South-east Asians have eternally been strong on home soil. In last year's Asian Cup they shocked the eventual champions Iraq 1-1 on their opener, before going on to register a 2-0 win over Oman.
Coach Chanvit Phalajivin, who oversaw the team's Asian Cup campaign, is familiar with their opponents' tactics. "Oman are defensively good thus we will have to play an attacking game throughout. We're happy, injury-free and confident - but the most important thing is to win," he said.
Asian Zone qualifying, third round, Matchday 2 Wednesday 26 March
Korea DPR-Korea Republic; Turkmenistan-Jordan
Uzbekistan-Saudi Arabia; Singapore-Lebanon
Kuwait-Iran; Syria-United Arab Emirates