AFC 2014 WCQ Round 3 Final Match Day Preview

So, with the African continental tournament done and dusted, I’ll be focusing a bit more on the Asian side of things. Our first venture on this front will be a preview of the Final Match Day in Round 3 of the Asian World Cup 2014 Qualifiers. The games are scheduled for Wednesday 29th February and 4 places in round 4 are still up for grabs, not to mention the results will affect the FIFA rankings which will be used to determine the seeding for the draw. More about that in my Round 4 preview after this set of games is done, however. For now let’s concentrate on a group by group preview and possible outcomes: Group A Jordan, Iraq, China, Singapore This group has already produced its two qualifiers in the form of an impressive Jordan and Zico’s Iraq. The two teams qualifying after amassing 12 points each, to China’s 6. Jordan started strongly in this campaign, and with a very experienced and level headed Adnan Hamed at the helm, Al Nashama have been the talk of Asian football, one of Asia’s genuine hopes for first time qualifiers at a World Cup in 2014. Iraq revived their faltering campaign with two back to back wins home and away against struggling China, which helped secure early qualification for Zico’s men. However there is still that unease about the ageing squad, and the Brazilian legend while pledging to bring in new blood, hasn’t really strayed far from the tried and tested squad of the last 5 or 6 years; Iraqi fans will be pleased to be featured at the final round of qualifiers for the first time since the 2002 qualifiers.

The most populous nation in the world is still struggling on the international front, having no real impact on any stage after their 2002 World Cup finals appearance. In their final games Iraq play host to Singapore in a rather straightforward encounter, while Jordan will be in Guangzhou to play China. The results will affect the FIFA rankings for Iraq & Jordan and this will be likely the driving factor for those two teams. For China and Singapore, they can maybe use these games to tinker with their squads.

Group B
South Korea, Lebanon, Kuwait, UAE

Group B will be a very interesting watch. We have a 3 way battle between South Korea, Lebanon and Kuwait, with neither of the two qualifying positions decided yet. South Korea after thumping Lebanon 6-0 in the opening game, went on to draw with Kuwait away and lose to Lebanon 2-1 in Beirut in what has become and iconic game for the Arab nation. Lebanon amassed points in their two Middle Eastern derbies and are in a very favourable position. The UAE have already been eliminated and have only pride to play for in their final group game.

With the two final games South Korea Vs Kuwait & UAE Vs Lebanon, it is all to play for. Looking at the results from the group and the location of the games I have to tip South Korea and Lebanon to make it through, but in this beautiful game of ours anything is possible, and this World Cup Qualifying campaign may claim a giant scalp early on in the form of South Korea. Keep a close eye on this group.

Group C

Uzbekistan, Japan, North Korea, Tajikstan

Our two qualifiers from this group are Japan and Uzbekistan. I could go on and on about Japanese football and how they came to the fore globally, but I’ll leave that for another piece focusing simply on them; suffice to say any international football fan has seen enough of this wonderful footballing nation to know their pedigree.As for Uzbekistan, well, they are an enigma of Asian football. For many years they have been the nearly theres of the Asian game, forget about their headline grabbing league for a second. Since their split from the Soviet Union, the White Wolves have yet to fail to qualify for the final round of the Asian World Cup qualifiers, and they do this strongly with impressive results, yet in this final round they perennially underachieve and go out in disappointing fashion, very Spain pre 2008 like.

Tajikstan are in this round via a back door route after Syria fielded an ineligible player, and their results have been expectedly poor. A shame the Syrian FA couldn’t be more professional, as the Levantine nation would have been an interesting addition to the group, having seen the success of their neighbours Jordan and Lebanon. I suspect Japan will be at 2014 without much bother, but can Uzbekistan break the spell and join them as first time qualifiers? Asia is looking like producing one this year, we’ll have to wait to see.

Group D

Australia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Thailand

The Socceroos have already ensured qualification as winners of the group, the real story in this group is the very probably scenario that Saudi Arabia will not be making the final round of qualifiers unless they upset Australia in Melbourne. The Green Falcons have been a mainstay in the final qualifying round and should they fail to make it another massive Asian scalp will have been claimed early on. Oman have things comparatively easier, with a home game against Thailand beckoning, and they only need to better Saudis result to make the second qualifying spot theirs. Thailand are still also in with a shout, though they need an away win which they have not managed to achieve yet in this round (shipping 6 goals in their two away losses) to ensure they qualify.

Group E

Iran, Qatar, Bahrain, Indonesia

Middle Eastern powerhouse Iran are already through to the final round, with Qatar and Bahrain left to battle it out for the other qualifying berth. Carlos Queiroz’ men have been impressive in their qualifiers so far and will look to bring Iran back onto the international scene. Constant Asian overachievers Bahrain have been on the receiving end of a 6-0 drubbing from Team Melli but are still in with a shout on the final matchday. Qatar, the World Cup 2002 hosts, are away to Iran and require only a draw to qualify, while Bahrain need to beat Indonesia at home (almost a certainty) and hope that Qatar lose to Iran. I suspect Iran and Qatar will be the qualifiers from this group, but then again, stranger things have happened with Bahrain involved.

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