Asia Angle: Five big WCQ questions

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  • Five burning questions...

    It’s time for Matchday Five in the final round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup.

    Twelve teams have been split into two groups of six with the top two from each going straight to Russia. The two third-placed finishers enter the play-off route.

    Sport360 asks five questions before the big day.


    After four games, Saudi Arabia sit on top of Group A with a very solid ten point haul. There has been a little luck (three penalties for all the team’s goals in the first two games) but the Green Falcons have improved as the group has progressed.

    The only dropped points came at home against Australia and the 3-0 win over the United Arab Emirates was as important as it was impressive.

    But a trip to Japan is perhaps the toughest yet. It is the first time in the group that Saudi Arabia will play a real away game outside their own borders (OK, they played Iraq in Malaysia but there was no home advantage for the Iraqis) and it will be both chilly and red-hot at a full Saitama Stadium.

    Japan need the win but have not been as impressive as usual. UAE won in the Land of the Rising Sun and Iraq were unlucky to lose to a 95th minute goal.

    A draw would be a fine result for Bert Van Marwijk’s men while a win would be special. There is confidence that it can be done. Should Saudi Arabia take all three points, they could have a six-point cushion between them and the play-off place. They would take some catching.

    Follow every Asian Cup qualifier with our Live Score Centre


    The two East Asian giants are not exactly struggling but both sit in third place in their respective groups with seven points. It is possible, though unlikely, that they could both be top of their groups by Wednesday morning.

    But if Korea lose to Uzbekistan in Seoul and Japan lose to Saudi Arabia in Saitama then hopes of automatic qualification will really be in the balance. Neither team has yet to find its fluency in this stage and the pressure is on both coaches.

    Should defeat visit these corners of East Asia then both Uli Stielike and Vahid Halilhodzic could well find themselves out of a job.

    You have to go back to 1994 when Japan did not appear at the World Cup while 1982 is the last Korea-less global football fest. The road to 2018 could look a lot different by the end of this week.

    Follow every Asian Cup qualifier with our Live Score Centre


    It all started so well for the Whites with a historic 2-1 win in Japan. Then came a home defeat to Australia and victory against Thailand. Six points from the first three games was a solid start but the 3-0 loss in Jeddah was painful with all three goals coming in the final quarter.

    The defeat put some pressure on coach Mahdi Ali, a man who has done so much to improve the national team but could fall victim to the rise in expectations that are a natural by-product of progress.

    UAE have to beat Iraq, not just to stay within touching distance of automatic qualification but to show that they can bounce back from bad results. It will also make the second half of the group very interesting indeed.

    Follow every Asian Cup qualifier with our Live Score Centre


    After three defeats in three games, Qatar’s win over Syria keeps hopes alive. But the Maroons need to keep winning and it won’t be easy in China for two reasons.

    China may be bottom of the group with one point but now have Marcello Lippi in charge. This game is the first for one of the most successful coaches in history and the Italian just being there is going to lift the hosts.

    And then there is the fact that the game is taking place in Kunming. The city, not far north of the border with Vietnam, is almost 2000 metres above sea level and it takes some getting used to. The Chinese players have been there since the start of the month.

    The 2022 World Cup hosts can’t afford to lose if they are to keep their, already slim, hopes of an automatic place in Russia alive. Qatar beat Russia in last week’s friendly meeting and need more of the same in China.

    Follow every Asian Cup qualifier with our Live Score Centre 


    Iran has played four, won three, drawn one, scored four and conceded none. It is not going to be a roller-coaster ride to Russia but that won’t bother coach Carlos Queiroz one little bit. The important thing for the former Real Madrid boss is that Iran qualify for a successive World Cup for the first time ever.

    That is likely to happen and the chances will only improve should Iran defeat Syria on Tuesday in neutral Malaysia. Iran are well-organised and with enough individual talent throughout the team to make a difference when it matters.

    If Iran win, they could go six points clear of the play-off places and will be at least four ahead. For a team like that doesn’t look like conceding never mind losing, that would be a formidable lead.

    Follow every Asian Cup qualifier with our Live Score Centre