JAPAN TAKE REVENGE ON UAE
It was a cool, clinical performance from Japan to put that opening game lose at the hands of UAE to bed. A goal in each half was enough to take all three points from a tricky away trip.
For Mahdi Ali’s men, it was a case of ‘What if?’ Things may have been different had Ahmed Khalil, the man who tormented the Samurai Blue at Saitama Stadium, had played. And they may have been different had Ali Mabkhout or Ismail Al Hammadi taken two big chances in each half.
Omar Abdulrahman was not as influential as fans hoped and, all in all, UAE can’t have many complaints. The hosts worked hard but never really got in the game after Yuya Kubo put Japan ahead early in the game.
UAE need something from their trip to Sydney otherwise even finishing in third-place will be tough.
SAUDIS LOOK GOOD FOR RUSSIA
Saudi Arabia may have missed the last two World Cups but they are showing few signs of allowing that become three. The Green Falcons picked up a comfortable 3-0 win in Bangkok over Thailand, even if the scoreline was flattering.
Thailand may be bottom with a point to their name but they are no pushovers. They demonstrated as much in September as they were unlucky to lose 1-0 in Saudi Arabia to a late – and very soft –penalty. Then they deserved more than to draw 2-2 with Australia in November.
But this was a clinical performance from Bert van Marwijk’s men and the big players stepped forward when needed.
Mohammed Al Sahlawi pounced from close range in the 25th minute to score goal number 15 of the qualification campaign so far. Thailand tried their utmost to get back into the game but the Saudis held them at bay and got two late goals to ensure that the final moments were comfortable.
Under the Dutchman, Saudi Arabia have a new-found confidence, swagger and ability to stay cool under pressure and take their chances when they come. There are some tough tests remaining in a tight group but at the moment, fans are right to believe that World Cup number five may just be around the corner.
LIPPI SERVICE MAKES DIFFERENCE FOR CHINA
China had only ever beaten South Korea once in 32 past meetings but then they didn’t have Marcello Lippi on the bench. This time around, the Italian World Cup winner masterminded a 1-0 win over the old enemy.
While there was plenty of defending in Changsha after Yu Dabao had headed the hosts into a 34th minute lead, it was not of the desperate kind. China were better-organised and just better than their more illustrious opponents. Korea had chances but neither in quantity or quality.
Korea may have been poor but this was a game that the old China may not have lost but would not have won. Compact and hard-working, they defended in numbers when they had to but were also not scared to commit men to counter-attacks.
AUSSIES NEED TO START WINNING AGAIN
The good thing about Australia under Ange Postecoglou is that wherever they go, they look to get on the front foot and win games. The problem is that the Socceroos have failed to do that in the last four qualifiers. A 1-1 tie against Iraq makes it four draws from the last four.
And the visitors to Tehran, where Iraq currently play their home games, will be thankful to come away with a point as this was far from a vintage performance on a poor surface.
Australia still have three of the last four games at home and will still be confident on going through but each point dropped makes the room for maneuver that much smaller.
Being three points off the pace means that Australia can’t afford many more slip-ups.
NOBODY CAN STOP IRAN
Or score against them. Team Melli are yet to concede a goal in the six games of qualifying and are now four points clear at the top of Group A. Another 1-0 win— the fourth so far – came in Qatar.
It was a deserved three points and Carlos Queiroz’s men were wasteful in front of goal but Mehdi Taremi kept his nerve seven minutes into the second-half and then it was game over.
It is now hard to see anything other than a first-ever second successive World Cup appearance for Iran who are currently in the middle of a perfect qualification campaign. Three points will be expected at home to China on Tuesday.