Tickets to Russia up for grabs in Asia –

Penultimate round of World Cup qualifiers in Asia pose numerous scenarios
Korea Republic will progress if they win and Uzbekistan fail to do likewise
Japan or Australia will qualify with victory in their heavyweight match-up
Two of three remaining berths for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ could potentially be secured as Asia’s third qualifying round reaches the penultimate matchday on Thursday. In Group A, Korea Republic can clinch the remaining spot with a home victory against already-qualified Iran provided Uzbekistan lose or draw away to China PR.
In Group B, meanwhile, hosts Japan and Australia are pitted in what is effectively a World Cup decider with the winner claiming the section’s first qualifying spot. Elsewhere, Uzbekistan and Syria aim to keep their hopes alive with three points against China and Qatar respectively.
The match Japan-Australia, Saitama Leaders Japan can claim their sixth consecutive World Cup qualification with a home victory against Australia. The Socceroos’ hopes, though, received a massive boost after second-placed Saudi Arabia lost 2-1 away in United Arab Emirates on Tuesday. With the Green Falcons missing a golden chance to establish a three-point cushion, Australia can now book their passage to Russia 2018 should they triumph in Saitama.
Captain Mile Jedinak is missing due to an ongoing groin injury but, Australia can look to in-form Aaron Mooy as they seek to prolong their undefeated head-to-head record. A timely first-ever qualifying win against the Socceroos will earn Japan passage to Russia. Their European-based veterans remain the experienced core while prolific uncapped attacker Kenyu Sugimoto could provide fresh impetus.
The other attractions Under new coach Shin Taeyong, Korea Republic are hoping to not only avenge their 1-0 loss in Iran with a home victory, but also to complete their qualifying mission with a game to spare. Tottenham Hotspur attacker Son Heungmin is the key man upfront while Tianjin Quanjian midfielder Kwon Kyungwon receives his first call-up after his excellent showings in China.
Hosts China will look to their on-song striker Wu Lei as they seek to keep their slim hopes alive with victory against Uzbekistan. The Shanghai SIPG goal-getter enters the game in prolific form having scored a brace in a 4-0 rout of holders Guangzhou Evergrande in the recent AFC Champions League quarter-final. However, the visiting Uzbeks know that three points will maintain their hopes of a historic first World Cup berth.
Elsewhere, Syria entertain Qatar in neutral Malaysia optimistic of enhancing their hopes with an upset against the 2022 World Cup hosts. However, the visitors enter the re-meeting with a mental edge having won the previous encounter 1-0. Under new boss Felix Sanchez, the Qataris will spare nothing to win in order to keep their hopes of at least a play-off place alive. Shouldering expectations for Qatar is creative outlet Hassan Al Haydos, while Syria’s Omar Al Somah is set for a welcome return after a five-year national team hiatus.
Player to watchCaptain Odil Ahmedov’s form will be key if Uzbekistan are to win their crucial game against China. The Shanghai SIPG midfielder has excelled for both club and country of late, and is capable of defence-splitting passes and scoring important timely goals.
Do you know?Uzbekistan have long been considered one of Asia’s perennial underachievers, having never represented the continent at the World Cup despite coming close on more than one occasion. In fact, they have reached the final qualifying round each time since joining the AFC and have twice featured in a play-off, losing out to Bahrain in 2005 and Jordan in 2013.
What they said “I have been told that Japan have never defeated Australia in this stage of World Cup qualifying. However, in the last meeting we showed we had the chances to beat them. Now we can take heart from the last showings and we will take the game against them and try to defeat them for the first time” Vahid Halilhodzic, Japan coach
Matchday 9 fixtures 31 AugustGroup A Korea Republic-IranChina PR-UzbekistanSyria-Qatar
Group BUnited Arab Emirates 2-1 Saudi ArabiaJapan-AustraliaThailand-Iraq


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