World Cup 2014: Familiar foes, new targets
Old rivals meet again as Asia's final qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ kicks off on Sunday. Some familiar rivals take centre stage on matchday 1.
Having met six times in the continental qualifying stage, Japan and Oman have once again been thrown together and are battling for the section's two automatic spots. Iran and Uzbekistan, of course, are by no means strangers having played each other on more than one occasion. JoinFIFA.com as we preview these enticing match-ups.
Asian final qualifying round, matchday 1 fixtures:
Group A: Uzbekistan-Iran, Lebanon-Qatar
Group B: Jordan-Iraq, Japan-Oman
A pair of west Asia's most familiar rivals, Group B's Jordan and Iraq square off in Amman for their ninth FIFA World Cup qualifying encounter and 35th meeting overall. A traditional continental powerhouse,Iraq proved dominant in their early exchanges, remaining undefeated with an incredible 14 wins from 16 matches. Their invincible aura would last until 1999, when the Jordanians brought a close to theIraq monopoly with a 2-1 friendly win at home. From then on, the emerging Hashemite Kingdom have gradually grown into a genuine competitor, edging their opponents with seven wins to six in recent years, including a 2-0 opening triumph in the previous stage, a result which helped them advance to this round for the first time.
Jordan coach Adnan Hamad has called up all his major overseas-based players for the pre-match training camp. The notable fresh inclusion is Romanian-based marksman Thaer Bawab, although midfielder Hassan Fattah is ruled out due to injury. Furthermore, the hosts enter the game with 2-1 defeat of Lebanon and a 4-0 demolition of Sierra Leone, results which add to the former Iraq coach's confidence against his native country. Reaching Asia's qualifying final round for the first time since 2002, Zico's Iraq have fixed their sights on a return to the global showpiece. While a 3-1 defeat from the last meeting helped the side finish group winners, the 2007 Asian champions travel to Jordan in good form having edged Sierra Leone 1-0 before drawing against Botswana 1-1 in the build-up.
The other attractions
Despite an immense geographical distance, Japan and Oman have developed a certain rivalry having played each other eight times over the past decade, including six FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Coach Alberto Zaccheroni's hosts welcome the west Asians with a clear mental edge thanks to a record of five wins and three draws, although Paul Le Guen's visitors are desperate to end the Japanese jinx with a maiden victory. Fielding an almost entirely European-based line-up, Japan defeated Azerbaijan 2-0 with Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki on target as they won the recent Kirin Cup. Oman, despite the absence of Hassan Mudhafar and Hassan Rabia, played out a 1-1 draw with Lebanon in a friendly and are hoping to relive their amazing form which saw them progress at the expense of Saudi Arabia.
Much focus will be on Uzbekistan and Iran as the two group winners from the last round meet in Tashkent for a keenly-anticipated showdown. Boasting two wins and a draw from three previous meetings, Carlos Queiroz's visitors enter the re-match seeking to prolong their dominant record. Team Melli thrashed Mozambique 3-0 in a warm-up, but the recent 1-0 loss to Albania gave the Portuguese cause for concern. Uzbekistan, meanwhile, can take heart from their solitary-goal victory over Japanwhich saw them finish the last round as group winners. However, there are suspension woes for coach Vadim Abramov, with as many as five players absent, including captain and two-time AFC Player of the Year winner Server Djeparov.
Elsewhere, Qatar arrive in Beirut with a historical advantage thanks to three past wins. However, the unfazed hosts Lebanon seem confident of ending that streak as they seek to continue their fairytale run, having stormed into Asia's final qualifying round for the first time. While the Cedars are never lacking in spirit, it is their injury list that will cause coach Theo Bucker concern, with captain Roda Antar and striker Mahmoud El Ali both unfit to play. The German tactician has called up Mohamed Ghaddar and Zakaria Charara, both of whom are making waves in the Malaysian Super League. The Qataris, under newly-appointed Brazilian Paulo Autuori, begin their campaign in lacklustre form having lost 2-1 to Albania and being held to a goalless draw by Palestine.
Continental big guns Australia and Korea Republic, meanwhile, will have to cool their heels before re-starting their respective campaigns next Friday.
Player to watch
Having scored a brace in their previous 3-1 defeat of Jordan, Iraq playmaker Nashat Akram will aim to once again be his team’s talisman.
3 - Early June will be decisive for a quartet of contenders, with three opening games awaiting Japan,Oman, Qatar and Lebanon over a nine-day period.
What they said
"I think we are well-prepared going into the match against Iraq as well as the next game againstJapan. Our players performed well in the recent friendly matches and can maintain their form into the opener. Although we are new faces in this stage of qualifying, we are aiming to finish top two to reach the World Cup," Jordan coach Adnan Hamad.