x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

First watergate, now meet the neighbours

After coming under attack in the UAE, North Korea are in Shanghai for a match against their bitter neighbours from the South.

After coming under attack from a barrage of water cartons and juice containers during their shock 2-1 win over the UAE at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in the early hours of Sunday morning, North Korea have returned to the relative tranquility of Shanghai for a match tomorrow against their bitter neighbours from the South, with whom they are technically still at war.

FIFA last month moved the match between the two Koreas to Shanghai because the North refused to play the South's anthem and raise its flag in a match originally set for the North's capital Pyongyang. The two Koreas met in a previous round of qualifying matches. The match set for Pyongyang in March was also moved to Shanghai for political reasons. After Saturday's surprise victory, North Korea have the chance to extend their lead at the top of Group Two but the coach Kim Jong-hun said his team would not get ahead of themselves in a match where pride could be worth more than points.

"We still have a long way to go but it's a good start," Kim said. "We would have been happy with one point [against the UAE] but to return with full points was really, really good." South Korea will be without leading player Park Ji-sung. The midfielder's English Premier League club Manchester United refused to release him, fearing the national team duty could aggravate a nagging knee injury. South Korea, looking for their seventh straight trip to the World Cup finals, played the anthem of their Cold War foe and raised their flag when the North came to Seoul in June in a qualifying match that finished 0-0.

The unlikely frontrunners in Group One, Qatar, also face a local derby against Bahrain. Qatar search for their second successive win against their Gulf rivals. Bahrain suffered a 3-2 defeat at home to Japan on Saturday but Qatar coach Jorge Fossati believes they are still formidable. "We respect all our opponents and Bahrain's defeat against Japan doesn't mean that we should underestimate them," the Uruguayan said.

Australia kick off their campaign when they travel to Uzbekistan, who were beaten 3-0 by Qatar on Saturday. Australia, who are taking the Asian route to the finals for the first time after switching confederations from Oceania, are looking for at least a point in Tashkent. Pim Verbeek's side are in good form having beat Holland 2-1 in a friendly on Saturday and have reportedly chartered their own jet to avoid a complicated journey to central Asia. The Socceroos will be without the Blackburn midfielder Vince Grella due to injury.

The 28-year-old has been struggling with a calf problem and was seen on crutches ahead of Saturday's friendly with Holland. Coach Pim Verbeek insisted Grella's prognosis was "good", but added it was in the best interests of both his club Blackburn and Australia if he did not play The two top teams in the two Asia groups automatically earn places at the 2010 finals in South Africa. The two third-placed teams will meet in a two-legged play-off and the winners of that will have to overcome Oceania champions New Zealand in another two-legged play-off.

* With agencies