Tuesday’s matchday four of Asia's third qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ pits a series of powerhouses against each other in some key continental derbies. In Group A, joint leaders Iran and Korea Republic meet in Tehran in their eighth qualifying encounter, while Group B front-runners Australia entertain Japan to resume their fast-developed rivalry.
Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia welcome familiar United Arab Emirates knowing that a win will maintain their place in the top two and Uzbekistan aim to bounce back with a victory at home against China PR. Syria travel to Doha seeking to spring another surprise against pointless Qatar. Iraq and Thailand, meanwhile, clash in neutral Iran with each in desperate search of their first points. Join FIFA.com as we take a closer look at these showdowns.
*Australia-Japan, Docklands Stadium, Melbourne
*The two sides' rivalry needs little introduction considering their high-profile past meetings. There was a 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup meeting when hosts Japan ran out 1-0 winners in the semi-final clash. But the Socceroos took revenge with a memorable 3-1 comeback victory in a group game at Germany 2006 where a certain Tim Cahill turned the game on its head with a quickfire two goals in the closing stages. Since joining AFC, Australia have remained undefeated against the same opponents in six World Cup qualifiers, with two wins and four draws. Japan, though, notably came out on top in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup final by clinching the continental title at the expense of the Australians.
The two squads contain some of Asia's most notable players. Vahid Halilhodzic's visitors will look to Keisuke Honda, who scored the equaliser in a 1-1 draw against the Aussies on the road to Brazil 2014. The hosts, for their part, boast plenty of options upfront. Aside from the in-form Tomi Juric, the 36-year-old Cahill remains a lethal weapon notably coming off the bench to score the match-winner against UAE. The Socceroos can strengthen their lead with three points but the Samurai Blue aim to leapfrog them with a victory.
The other attractions
There is the top-of-the-table clash in Group A with Iran and Korea Republic, level on seven points each, aiming to go clear at the top by winning what is the two sides' 29th meeting in all competitions. Carlos Queiroz's Team Melli boast a slight historical edge with three extra wins, including 1-0 home and way victories on the road to Brazil 2014. The Iranians boast the meanest defense in the round, having yet to concede a goal. Despite seeing their net bulge four times, however, the South Koreans are the best scorers in the third round averaging two goals per game.
With just a point from three games, China are left with few options but to win in Uzbekistan if they are to keep their hopes alive. Having lost 1-0 to Syria at home in unexpected fashion, Team Dragon are desperate to redeem themselves with their first win. The same can be said of the hosts, who are motivated to bounce back after falling to Iran at home in their previous outing. Gao Hongbo's visitors must make do without defender Zhang Linpeng through suspension. The Uzbeks, meanwhile, will be missing the services of China-based defender Anzur Ismailov and super-sub Alexander Geynrikh for identical reasons.
Despite their superb showings in the last qualifying round, Qatar's new-found expectations have quickly begun to evaporate. With three straight defeats, indeed, Jorge Fossati's hosts have little to lose when they line up with Syria. On the opposite third, Ayman Hakeem's visitors arrive in Doha with bolstered confidence having drawn against Korea Republic and stunned China. Having had a hand in their two goals against Korea Republic, Sebastian Soria's form is key if the Qataris are to obtain the much-needed win. The Syrians will look to their prolific striker Omar Khribin, who set up Mahmoud Al Mawas to score the only goal against the Chinese.
Two familiar foes will line up in Jeddah when Saudi Arabia entertain United Arab Emirates in their third meeting of this campaign. Both teams have begun the third round with a bang but Bert van Marwijk's hosts have remained undefeated and are a point clear of the rivals. Mahdi Ali's visitors, for their part, have established themselves among the genuine contenders with victories against Japan and Thailand. The Green Falcons have a clear mental edge having won 20 and drawn seven out of 33 previous meetings, including grabbing four points over two legs in the previous qualifying stage. With midfield wizard Omar Abdulrahman pulling the strings, however, the UAE have options in attack and can look to the goal-scoring form of both Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout.
If previous form against Iraq is anything to go by, then Thailand look set to grab their first points heading into the re-meeting. Both sides are determined to revive their fortunes with a first win, with zero points garnered from three opening outings. But Kiatisuk Senamuang's visitors can take heart from their performances in the second round, where they twice drew against the same rivals en route to winning the section. The Thai fans will look to midfielder Mongkol Tossakrai, who was on target in each of the previous draws. Radhi Shenaishil's Iraq, will be seeking to utilise Saad Abdul Amir's aerial ability.
Player to watch
Few may have known of Genki Haraguchi at the start of this campaign, but he has since become a familiar name having scored two crucial goals for Japan in the third round. Indeed, the 25-year-old Hertha Berlin attacker was signed by Urawa Red Diamonds when he was just 17, making him the youngest in the club's history. And he has subsequently established himself among Japan's hottest young prospects. His fast forays and accurate shooting saw him dubbed as “Japan's Mario Balotelli” by media and fans alike.
*Do you know? *Saudi Arabia's long-standing rivalry against UAE dates back 42 years ago when the Green Falcons registered a 2-0 victory in a friendly in Kuwait City in 1974.
What they said
"He’s [Tim Cahill] got a good record and good history against Japan and they’re probably fearful of him. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, he’ll have an impact," Australia forward Robbie Kruse.
Matchday 4 fixtures *11 October
Saudi Arabia-United Arab Emirates