Giants aim to fight back as minnows seek breakthrough
Japan and Iran must put their opening stalemates behind them as they enter the Matchday 3 of 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying, desperately seeking to bounce back against Cambodia and Guam respectively. The same can be said of Uzbekistan, who aim to revive their fortunes against Yemen after having lost their opener in unexpected fashion.
The likes of Australia, Korea Republic and Iraq should have few problems in their respective matches but hosts China PR must shrug aside their past defeat to Hong Kong if they are to maintain their good run. Elsewhere, Guam and Singapore will leave no stone unturned as they seek to defend their leads. FIFA.com previews the enticing World Cup qualifiers across Asia.
China PR-Hong Kong
On the surface, hosts China should have a clear mental edge against Hong Kong, having won 14 of the 20 previous meetings. It is, however, the visitors that can take heart from their past FIFA World Cup qualifying feat. 30 years ago in the same stage on the road to Mexico 1986, Hong Kong stunned China 2-1 on 19 May as they progressed to the final qualifying round at their opponents' expense. The defeat triggered post-match chaos still remembered as the "Incident of 19.5".
In the two sides' last FIFA World Cup qualifier in 2004, China ran out 7-0 winners at home. 11 years have elapsed and Team Dragon enter the re-match featuring a new generation of players, with captain Zheng Zhi the only player in the current set-up who appeared in the last outing.
Hong Kong, featuring five players from local giants Kitchee including dynamic midfielder Lam Ka Wai, arrive in Shenyang keen on emulating that famous win from 1985. However, China coach Alain Perrin has confidently declared there will be no repeat this time around. The Frenchman is all too aware that his side must take all three points against Hong Kong if they are to keep up with their main competition, Qatar, who entertain Bhutan in their qualifier.
The other attractions
In Group A, new boss Bert van Marwijk is hoping to get his tenure in charge of Saudi Arabia off to a good start as his side take on Timor-Leste. Despite sitting 70 places above the Southeast Asians in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the Dutchman knows Saudi Arabia cannot underestimate Timor-Leste's resilience, which saw them hold Malaysia 1-1. United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, welcome a desperate Malaysia who are still searching for their first qualifying win.
Group B's joint leaders Australia and Jordan should make light work of Bangladesh and Kyrgyzstan at home respectively. The Socceroos' hopes are boosted by the return of Celtic attacking midfielder Tom Rogic from an injury, while attackers Robbie Kruse and Massimo Luongo are also back to the line-up having missed Australia’s opening 2-1 win in Kyrgyzstan.
If their opening two victories are anything to go by, it seems that Group D leaders Guam look set to continue their impressive run against hosts Iran. And a 19-0 loss to the Iranians in qualifying for Korea/Japan 2002 should provide all the motivations that Gary White's squad need heading into the re-match in Tehran. To fill his side with fresh blood, coach Carlos Queiroz has called up two youth talents in Sepahan midfielder Ali Karimi and Zob Ahan striker Kaveh Rezaei into Iran’s side. The other match pits hosts Oman against Turkmenistan for their first-ever qualifying meeting, with Paul Le Guen's side hoping to move to the top of their group with a second win.
Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic named a full-strength side as the Group E favourites seek their first win against visiting Cambodia. Having seen his side go four matches winless, including being held to a goalless draw by Singapore in the qualifying opener, the Bosnia and Herzegovinian has urged his side to give it their all. Japan have to make do without No1 goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima after being left out of the Samurai Blue squad. Singapore, meanwhile, can count on custodian Izwan Bin Mahbud as they aim to keep attack-minded hosts Syria at bay.
In Group F, Iraq welcome pointless Chinese Taipei for their opening match. Group Gfavourites Korea Republic entertain Laos, while Kuwait play Myanmar at home. Elsewhere, Group H's Uzbekistan are determined to get their campaign back on track with three points against Yemen. Leaders Korea DPR are, for their part, hoping to strengthen their grip on the section with a third straight victory in Bahrain.
Player to watch
A proven goal-scorer has been absent from Japan’s recent teams, who picked up the wooden spoon in the recent EAFF East Asian Cup. With Takashi Usami hitting his peak form, though, the Samurai Blue are hopeful of opening their accounts. The 23-year-old former Bayern Munich attacker is topping the J League scoring-chart with 16 goals for Gamba Osaka, in addition to another four finishes in the AFC Champions League.
Do you know?
Two teams will host matches outside of their borders. Syria take on Singapore in Muscat, Oman, while Kuwait line up against Myanmar in Doha, Qatar.
What they said
"When we played our first two matches we set the target of being on top of the group. But people laughed at me when I said that. Well, look at us now, if any team takes us too lightly they will trip up." Guam coach Gary White
Matchday 3 fixtures:
Group A: United Arab Emirates-Malaysia; Saudi Arabia-Timor-Leste
Group B: Australia-Bangladesh; Jordan-Kyrgyzstan,
Group C: China-Hong Kong; Qatar-Bhutan
Group D: Iran-Guam; Oman-Turkmenistan
Group E: Japan-Cambodia; Syria-Singapore
Group F: Iraq-Chinese Taipei*
Group G: Korea Republic-Laos; Kuwait-Myanmar
Group H: Bahrain-Korea DPR, Uzbekistan-Yemen
*All matches involving Indonesia have been cancelled as a result of the suspension of their Football Association.