World Cup crunch matches for South Korea and Australia
Home wins vital as qualifying competition reaches penultimate stage
With Japan becoming the first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup last week, the focus in Asian qualifying turns to the progress of South Korea and Australia.
South Korea, trying to qualify for the finals for the eighth consecutive time, play Uzbekistan in a key match in group A today. The Koreans lead the group and can be all but assured of a spot in Brazil with a win over second-placed Uzbekistan in Seoul.
The Australians, meanwhile, will need a win against Jordan in Melbourne to move into second spot in group B and stay in the hunt for a third consecutive trip to the World Cup.
These are the key match-ups in the penultimate set of games that will determine the four direct entries from Asia. The top two teams in each group will qualify, with the third-placed teams in each group meeting in a play-off for the right to face a South American team for a place in the draw.
Japan, with the luxury of knowing they have qualified for Brazil with a match to spare, take on Iraq at Doha, Qatar, while Iran host Lebanon in Tehran.
South Korea and Uzbekistan are level with 11 points each in group A, though South Korea hold the edge in goal differential. Iran are in third place with 10 points, with Qatar in fourth with seven and Lebanon in last place with five.
Australia find themselves in a precarious position in third place with seven points in group B, two behind Oman with one match in hand. But if the Australians can win two home matches in eight days against Jordan and Iraq, they should clinch the second direct qualifying spot. Oman have played seven matches and will face Jordan away next week in their last match.
Australia coach Holger Osieck won't say until match day whether he'll be making any changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Japan in Saitama last week. Regular holding midfielder Mile Jedinak and striker Alex Brosque are both fit again for selection.
"In football, you should never look back. The only thing you get is a sore neck," Osieck said yesterday. "I look ahead. Jordan is a different game [to Japan]. Everyone in our squad is ready to play, so it's a good situation but a tough one for me, as well, to make the decisions."
The Australians had a 1-0 lead in Japan last week until conceding a penalty in the last minute for a hand-ball.
South Korea are coming off a disappointing 1-1 draw away to Lebanon last week and face Iran in another home match at Ulsan next week.
South Korea and Uzbekistan played to a 2-2 draw in Tashkent in September. That match began a series of mediocre performances by South Korea, who went on to lose to Iran in October and needed a last-second goal to defeat Qatar 2-1 in March.
South Korea also got a late goal in their draw last week with Lebanon.
But South Korea coach Choi Kang-hee sounded optimistic ahead of today's match.
"Uzbekistan are a beatable opponent," Choi said. "I don't think Uzbekistan are such a strong opponent. It's important what kind of strategies they will bring because they have some experience against us."
Centreback Kim Young-gwon, who plays for FC Basel in Switzerland, said the Koreans had to improve their defence. "We've been giving away goals almost every game and we need to address that," Kim said. "We were burned in set pieces, and we have to do a better job of communicating with each other and try to be on the same page."
Uzbekistan's final match will be at home against Qatar next week.