January 26 – Asian qualifying for the Qatar 2022 World Cup resumes tomorrow (Thursday) with Iran one win away from qualification in Group A. In Group B Australia need a win against China to stay in the hunt for an automatic berth in Qatar.
Iran have dominated their group and are currently 10 points ahead of third-placed UAE with four games to play.
A win against local rivals Iraq will secure their progression as well as cement the UAE’s third group place and play-off position for the inter-continental qualifying spot.
South Korea are two points behind Iran and face a tricky encounter with Lebanon. A slip up against the Lebanese would still give them at least a five-point cushion over the UAE who are play the group’s bottom side Syria.
Group B is much tighter and while Saudi Arabia have a four-point lead over Japan, the Japanese have bounced back from a poor start to 2022 qualification, and are a point ahead of Australia.
Japan face China in their first game since new coach Li Xiaopeng replaced Li Tie as manager. Although second from bottom in their group, the Chinese still have an outside chance of gaining the third placed play-off spot.
A win for China would narrow the gap for the play-off place to three points if Australia slip up against Vietnam.
In their last match the Chinese drew with Australia. Australia, who have not won for three matches in qualifying (they lost to Japan and drew with Saudi), will be hoping and expected to turn the tide against bottom placed Vietnam.
The south-east Asian nation who are in final World Cup qualifying for the first time have yet to gain a point, but nevertheless have emerged as creditable challengers within the AFCs top tier of men’s team.
Australia’s head coach Graham Arnold will not be on the touchline in Melbourne, having tested positive for COVID-19. Instead his assistant Rene Meulensteen will deputise in his absence.
Australia, who are hosting only their second qualifier on home soil in over two years, have overseas-based players Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy available.
Vietnam in contrast do not have a European pool of players to call on. However, coach Park Hang-seo has made changes, naming combative Hanoi FC midfielder Do Hung Dung as the new captain.
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