x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

World Cup 2014 qualifying: Road to Brazil is clear for Australia

Victory over Iraq in Sydney will secure 2014 World Cup berth for Australia while South Korea, Iran, Uzbekistan and Oman are also in contention on final day of Asia qualifying.

Australia captain Lucas Neill, who used to play at Al Jazira and Al Wasl, has his national team one win away from qualifying for the World Cup. Greg Wood / AFP
Australia captain Lucas Neill, who used to play at Al Jazira and Al Wasl, has his national team one win away from qualifying for the World Cup. Greg Wood / AFP

Five nations around the Asian confederation are bracing for the joy or heartbreak that is coming their way Tuesday on the final match day of the continental World Cup qualification.

Only Japan have booked a berth for Brazil 2014, and the national teams from South Korea, Iran, Uzbekistan, Australia and Oman all are hoping to secure one of the three remaining automatic spots. Two will miss out on direct entry, and then go into calculations for the Asian play-off for an intercontinental qualifier.

The third-place teams from Group A and B will meet in an Asian play-off in September for the right to take on a South American team in a final decider, with a place in Brazil at stake.

Japan already have taken top spot in Group B but Australia are in a good position to clinch second on Tuesday.

An impressive 4-0 win over Jordan in Melbourne last Tuesday following a 1-1 draw in Japan means the Socceroos can qualify for a third successive World Cup with a win over bottom team Iraq in Sydney. Even a defeat will be sufficient if Oman, in third, fail to win away at fourth-placed Jordan.

With Iraq already eliminated and without recently-retired stars of the 2007 Asian Cup triumph Younis Mahmoud and Nashat Akram, the injury and suspension-free Australians, who will be backed by a sell-out crowd of 80,000, are big favourites. However, Lucas Neill, the captain, is taking nothing for granted.

"The atmosphere's been very low-key in a positive way," said the former Al Jazira and Al Wasl defender. "It's very calm. The manager and the senior players have made sure no one's talking about dancing the samba. Nobody's in Brazil yet. We need one game, one win. Then we can start thinking about all the dreams coming true."

The game at ANZ Stadium takes place hours before Oman are in action against Jordan in Amman. An Australian failure to win would mean that fans Down Under would have to wait hours to see if Oman can take three points and second spot.

"The match against Jordan will be more than tough. The atmosphere will be amazing. I am looking forward to playing this game with a chance to claim third place. It is great for us to have this chance," the Oman coach Paul le Guen told the Times of Oman.

Jordan are realistically out of the running for an automatic spot but will be satisfied with third. To do so, they will have to defeat Oman, and then look forward to a play-off with Uzbekistan, South Korea or Iran, none of which will be happy to be there.

The coaches of South Korea and Iran have heightened the tension with a war of words ahead of their clash at Ulsan in the south-east of the Korean peninsula.

South Korea lead Group A with 14 points, one clear of second-place Iran. Both will qualify if Uzbekistan, in third place, fail to defeat Qatar in Tashkent.

The two teams are familiar foes – they have met at every Asian Cup since 1996 and four years ago, almost to the day, South Korea ended Iran's hopes of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

Before the qualifying match in Tehran last October, the Koreans complained about the standard of training facilities provided and their coach, Choi Kang-hee, said at the time that Iran should be forced to train on the football pitches dotted along the Han River in Seoul for the return leg.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz demanded an apology from Choi and promised to hand him an Uzbekistan shirt before the game.

It has, at least, diverted some attention from the huge stakes riding on the game. The South Koreans know a draw will be enough to qualify but will be missing a number of players including the English Premier League star Ki Sung-yeung and the 2012 Olympic captain Koo Ja-cheol.

In addition, the senior team captain Kwak Tae-hwi picked up an injury in the Uzbekistan win and will be absent.

Uzbekistan need to convincingly defeat Qatar, already eliminated and missing six regular starting players through injury or suspension, and hope that they can then finish above either Iran or Korea on goal difference and qualify for their first World Cup.


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