ASIAN WORLD CUP HOPES ON TENTERHOOKS

Can the Socceroos finish the job? Is Uzbekistan set for its first appearance in a soccer World Cup? Which two Asian teams will play off to face South America’s fifth placed qualifier? All these questions are set to be answered on Tuesday night, 18th June 2013.

The Socceroos are finally playing with momentum and it couldn’t come at a more fortunate time. Throughout the 2014 World Cup qualification tournament, Australia’s form has been patchy, and frustrating for fans. No doubt manager Holger Osieck has been frustrated too. But the turning point arrived when Australia took a point away from the Japan clash, and just last week dealt with Jordan convincingly. Most poignant in these two matches has been the emergence of Robbie Kruse, Tommy Oar and Tom Rogic as genuinely influential members of the  2014 World Cup squad. Assuming that Australia wins against Iraq tonight, manager Holger Osieck has the luxury of the East Asian Cup tournament in July (played in Korea), in which to give these and other youngsters more valuable experience.

The clash against Iraq sees a glut of factors favouring Australia. The match is set to be played in front of a sell-out  80,000 strong crowd in Sydney; striker Younis Mahmoud (age 30) with over 40 goals for Iraq has retired from international soccer as of last week; Nashat Akram (age 28) the star of the 2007 Asian Cup tournament retired from international soccer as of last week; Iraq are out of contention for Brazil 2014, and new manager Vladimir Petrovic is on the nose. Petrovic has overseen losses against China in February and the woeful display against Oman a fortnight ago. In Iraq’s favour is the unknown quantity that they present themselves as in Sydney. Made up primarily of the under 20 Iraqi side, goalkeeper Noor Sabri said, “We’ve got Humam and other players in our squad who we have a lot of faith in.” The keeper was speaking specifically about midfielder Humam Na’oush just 17 years old with ten international caps to his name already.

Meanwhile, in Group A Uzbekistan host Qatar at home, while they cross their fingers that Korea Republic take care of Iran, in Ulsan, Korea. The Uzbeks are coming off a narrow defeat to Korea Republic in Seoul last week, where they went down 1-nil through an own goal. Manager Mirdjalal Kasimov has stated ominously that, “There is no reason to look for people who are responsible for the defeat.” The midfielder responsible for the own goal, Akmal Shorakhmedov will be crossing more than his fingers that his manager is as forgiving as he paints himself to be. Their opponents cashed-up World Cup 2022 hosts Qatar, sit helplessly adrift of qualification, four points away. The Uzbeks have it all to play for and should get ‘the cash’.

Interestingly it is Iran who have been the only team to inflict defeat upon Korea Republic during qualification. If they repeat the effort away from home they’re headed for Brazil. Korea Republic have nothing to play for with a superior ‘for and against’, which would see them fend off the Uzbeks, unless there was a disaster. Korea are currently plus seven in goal difference while Uzbekistan are plus one.

If I was a betting man, I would say that Iran are headed to their first World Cup since 1998, when they famously knocked out Australia, in a play-off for the final position in France ’98. Along with them will be Korea Republic from Group A and Japan and Australia from Group B. The Asian play-off should see Uzbekistan take on Oman.

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