x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Fatigue is a factor for Asia's World Cup qualifiers

With all 20 nations playing one game at home and one away in the space of four days all over the continent, fatigue looms as a major issue.

Team doctors will be as important as the players in tonight's World Cup qualifiers in Asia, as squads deal not only with injuries but long-haul flights.

As well as injuries, suspensions and tactics, some mammoth journeys will be a major factor on the second set of group matches of the third round of qualification for the 2014 World Cup. With all 20 nations playing one game at home and one away in the space of four days all over the expansive continent, fatigue looms as a major issue.

Captained by Al Jazira's Lucas Neill, Australia has the most arduous journey, flying 12,900km from Brisbane to Dammam in the east of Saudi Arabia for a clash of two teams expecting to progress from Group D.

A recurring theme of the ten games last Friday was how top-ranked teams struggled to defeat weaker nations as home.

The Socceroos had to come from behind to beat Thailand 2-1 in Brisbane thanks to a late goal from Alex Brosque.

The match in Saudi Arabia will be much tougher and not just because of the travel. The hosts are now coached by Frank Rijkaard formerly boss of Barcelona and Netherlands. The Dutchman led his team to a goalless draw against Oman in the opening game.

Neill played under Rijkaard at Galatasaray in Turkey and is expecting a tough test in the second match of Group D.

"He gets the players relaxed but also extremely confident in themselves, and he's shrewd," Neill said. "He knows how to play the game. He's played it at the top level; he's coached it at the top level. He would see that as a great challenge and a great opportunity to get one over on us."

After failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and exiting the 2011 Asian Cup in the first round, Saudi Arabia are desperate to qualify for the tournament in Brazil, but Rijkaard was quick to deflect pressure on to the visitors.

"Australia has the advantage at this stage in our group as they have defeated Thailand but the contest is still open for all the teams," said Rijkaard.

It is the first time for the two teams to meet since Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2006.

The other match in Group C, Thailand will be aiming to build on their impressive thought fruitless performance in Australia, and get a win at home against Oman for whom Wigan Athletic's Ali Al Habsi, the only player from the Gulf to play in the English Premier League, will be in goal.

The biggest crowd of the night should be in Jakarta where Peter Taylor, the former England coach, takes his Bahrain team to face Indonesia.

Indonesia defeated Bahrain in the 2007 Asian Cup, and the pressure is on the visitors who came close to qualifying for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups but are still seeking a first appearance.

Qatar picked up a point with a goalless draw in Bahrain, and that could prove critical, as those teams are expected to fight it out for second place behind Iran who can seize control of Group E with a win in Qatar tomorrow.

Another high-profile coach, Zico, is still smarting after his Iraq side lost the first game of his tenure to Jordan who, ironically, are coached by an Iraqi, Adnan Hamad.

The Brazilian has now criticised the artificial pitch at Singapore's Jalan Besar stadium; deeming it unprofessional.

Zico said that the pitch was not suitable for World Cup qualifying matches and suggested it would be more appropriate for schoolboy football.

"I don't like the field, the grass. I think the good game is on natural grass," the 58-year-old former midfielder said. "Maybe for schools, for the youths, it is OK, but not professional [football]. Qualifiers for the World Cup need natural grass."