March 23 – On Thursday, Australia will host Japan in a blockbuster that will all but decide the fate of two of the powerhouses in Asia’s final round of World Cup qualifying. Graham Arnold and the Socceroos must win if they are to remain in contention for an automatic qualifying place for Qatar 2022.
In Group A, Iran and South Korea have already ensured their presence at the World Cup in Qatar; Japan and Saudi Arabia are closing in on a ticket, but Australia (who have qualified for every world Cup since 2002) remain in danger of having to qualify via the intercontinental play-offs.
Australia sit three points behind Japan and a direct ticket to Qatar, and need to defeat the Samurai Blue at home in Sydney to keep their fate in their own hands.
“Australia were very strong and their intensity level was high when we played them last October,” said Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu in an interview with the Asian Football Confederation’s website. ”I am quite sure that the next game is going to be more aggressive and intense than our last game, and think it will be a good game of football.”
The Socceroos have to travel to Saudi Arabia to wrap up their final group fixtures, whereas Japan, who stumbled to defeats against the Saudis and Oman in a lacklustre campaign, host bottom of Group B Vietnam.
In the Asian playoffs, the Socceroos might well meet the United Arab Emirates, who dismissed their Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk last month following what the local FA perceived to be an underwhelming qualification campaign. In Group A, the United Arab Emirates will seek to hold off Lebanon to claim third spot behind Iran and South Korea. They sit three points clear of Lebanon and face Iraq in Saudi Arabia before hosting the South Koreans on the final day of qualifying.
A UAE loss to Iraq could open the doors for the Iraqis to take the play-off position.
In Asia, the top two teams of each third-round group qualify directly for the World Cup, with the two third-place finishers condemned to the play-offs route: the Asian play-off followed by an international playoff against the fifth-ranked team from CONMEBOL’s qualifiers.
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