Just two matches remain in the third round of Asian World Cup qualifying.
Korea Republic and Iran have already booked their place at World Cup 2022 and the final two automatic places could be decided in these fixtures.
Australia vs Japan
A do or die World Cup qualifier for Australia who are looking to make it to a fifth World Cup in a row.
In Group B, Saudi Arabia will qualify with a win over China, meaning these two are fighting it out for the second automatic spot.
With that in mind, it’s very much advantage Japan as they boast a three-point advantage and host minnows Vietnam on Tuesday.
Australia have just 15 points to their name following an extremely costly 2-2 draw with Oman in Mascaṭ last time out.
So, to qualify, the Socceroos need to win this one and then beat Saudi Arabia in Jeddah on the tenth and final matchday.
If not, Graham Arnold’s men will settle for third which earns them a play-off against the corresponding side from Group A- probably U.A.E.
Then, the winners of that will have to overcome a South American nation in the inter-confederation play-offs in Qatar in June.
From Japan’s point of view, they’ll be happy to leave Sydney with a point, confident of then, at least, drawing with Vietnam in Saitama next.
Of course, a victory at Stadium Australia for Hajime Moriyasu’s team will ensure they, alongside Saudi Arabia, are going to the World Cup.
The Samurai Blue won the reverse fixture 2-1 so are unbeaten in eight against the Socceroos, winning five, including the 2011 Asia Cup Final.
Korea Republic vs Iran
Group A’s top two meet at Sangam Stadium but, in many respects, the pressure is off for both.
Back in January, both Korea Republic and Iran rubber stamped their places at Qatar 2022; they’re 11 and 13 points clear of third respectively.
Iran have won seven of their eight matches in this group with their only slip-up a 1-1 draw when South Korea visited Tehrān in October.
Korea Republic are two points worse off after they were held to a shock goalless draw by minnows Iraq way back on matchday one.
Either way, both will be in Qatar in November and it is a third successive World Cup qualification for both; it’s actually six in a row for the Koreans.
Their last three meetings have ended all square with Iran victorious in four consecutive encounters before this.
The Taegeuk Warriors have not beaten the Iranian Lions since an Asia Cup quarter-final penalty shootout triumph back in 2007.
China PR vs Saudi Arabia
Will this be the day of celebration for Saudi Arabia?
The Green Falcons have won six of eight matches in Group B, only losing once, so are top with just two fixtures remaining.
So, regardless of any other results, Hervé Renard’s side will qualify for Qatar 2022 with a victory Sharjah.
This seems likely given that Saudi Arabia have won 32 of their last 47 competitive internationals against fellow-Asian nations.
As for China PR, this has been another failed campaign, still waiting for their first World Cup appearance since 2002.
The Dragon’s Team have won just once in Group B, a 3-2 victory over minnows Vietnam, so are down in fifth and out of contention.
Given that China have only won three of their last 13 meetings with Saudi Arabia, things aren’t likely to get better for Lǐ Xiāopéng’s team.
Iraq vs United Arab Emirates
Can the United Arab Emirates cling onto third place as they aim to end their 32-year exile from the World Cup Finals?
In this group, Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s side have nine points, with their two wins to date coming away to Lebanon and home to Syria, 1-0 and 2-0.
So, they’re in that all-important third-spot, three points clear of the Lebanese with two games to go.
If they cling onto third, they’ll play the corresponding side from Group B with the winner of that tie going into the intercontinental play-offs.
Given that the U.A.E. host Korea Republic on Tuesday, they’ll be desperate to leave Riyāḍh with maximum points.
This seems likely as Iraq are yet to win in this group, although they have drawn five of eight fixtures.
The Lions of Mesopotamia have proved tough to beat of late, but have scored a measly six goals in their last 13 competitive fixtures.
Vietnam vs Oman
Despite the fact there are two games to go, unfortunately for these two, both have already been eliminated from World Cup qualifying.
Vietnam have lost seven of their eight fixtures in this group but their sole win came in their last outing, a famous 3-1 victory over China in Hà Nội.
Oman are five points better off so sit fourth in Group B having, amazingly, beaten Japan away before a 3-1 victory when Vietnam visited Mascaṭ.
In all, the Gulf Samba have won all three meetings with the Golden Star Warriors, scoring 11 and conceding just one.
However, Vietnam have lost just three of their last 18 home games.
Lebanon vs Syria
Can Lebanon keep their slim World Cup hopes alive?
The Cedars have won just one of eight matches in this group, accumulating a measly six points, but aren’t out of contention just yet.
Ivan Hašek’s side sit fourth, three points below the U.A.E. who they’ll be hoping to pip to third which earns a play-off place.
Thus, given that they face current leaders Iran in Mašhad on the tenth and final matchday, this is a must win.
Syria meanwhile have just two points on the board so have been eliminated.
The Qasioun Eagles’ achievement was just reaching this stage of World Cup qualifying as it ensured they’ll be at the next Asia Cup in June 2023.
The reverse fixture in October saw Lebanon win 3-2 in Ammān, meaning they’re unbeaten in four meetings with Syria, winning three.
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