With the Preliminary Draw to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ taking place in little over two weeks in Durban, eight teams are set to lock horns in the second round of Asian Zone qualifying for the tournament. The top 11 seeds of the 19 winning teams from the opening round joined the continent's 'big five' in receiving a bye into the third round, leaving the eight remaining sides to do battle over two legs for four places in Asia's last 20.
Featuring prominently in the four pairings are three South-east Asian nations, including big guns Thailand and Indonesia, who will take on West Asian opponents in Yemen and Syria respectively. The region's reigning champions Singapore will face AFC Challenge Cup champions Tajikistan, while the other pairing pits Hong Kong against Turkmenistan.
*Thailand expect, Singapore explore * Having defeated Yemen 4-1 on aggregate in qualifying for Germany 2006 - a 3-0 away win in Sana'a preceding a 1-1 draw in Bangkok - Thailand will be the clear favourites when their rivalry resumes. But while history shines on the Thais, their coach Chanvit Phalajivin is taking nothing for granted. "I am troubled by the hot weather in the region and also the time difference," he said. "Also the food and the environment is sharply different, which will make our lives difficult."
Ahead of the visit of Tajikistan on Friday, Singapore tactician Radojko Avramovi will attempt to plot the downfall of a largely mysterious opponent. Despite winning the inaugural AFC Challenge Cup in 2006 with a 4-0 final defeat of Sri Lanka, Tajikistan remain a little-known outfit in Asia and for Avramovi, this lack of acquaintance has complicated his preparations.
"Because we are playing against a team we do not know much of, we must be prepared to adapt to changes during the game if we have to," he explained. "The key point is that we will be working on the different situations we could face in the game and exploring different options."
Indonesia and Hong Kong are also hoping to convert their home advantage into an opening victory. The Indonesians proved their credentials with a 2-1 reverse of Bahrain, a result which will have given Syria a headache or two.
Hong Kong, whose first leg fixture will come one day later on 10 November, will have a mountain to climb against Turkmenistan. They will, nonetheless, take inspiration from their shock elimination of China PR in Mexico 1986 qualifying as they strive to take a step towards a place in South Africa.
Asian Zone qualifying, second round, first leg fixtures;
*9 November 2007