Kuala Lumpur: After a fascinating Matchday Six on Thursday, the identity of Asia’s representatives for the FIFA World Cup 2018 remains unclear with the tickets to Russia still very much up for grabs.
The Islamic Republic of Iran extended their lead in Group A to four points but defeats for the teams lying in second and third, Korea Republic and Uzbekistan, have seen the chasing pack close in.
Syria’s 1-0 win over the Uzbeks sees them now just a point off third and only two points off second while China’s resurgence under Marcello Lippi continued after a shock 1-0 defeat of Korea. Bottom side Qatar, meanwhile, urgently need a win if they are to stand any chance of securing a top-three position.
China and Syria travel to Iran and Korea respectively knowing that if they could pull of a second upset within a week their chances of a World Cup place will dramatically increase, while Uzbekistan host Qatar in a game the Central Asians must win to end their two-game losing streak.
Korea Republic v Syria Venue: Seoul World Cup Stadium, Seoul Kick-off: March 28, 20:00 UTC+9
IR Iran v China Venue: Azadi Stadium, Tehran Kick-off: March 28, 16:30 UTC+4:30
Uzbekistan v Qatar Venue: Bunyodkor Stadium, Tashkent Kick-off: March 28, 18:00 UTC+5
In Group B, the two nations currently occupying the automatic qualification places gave themselves breathing space in Matchday Six as Saudi Arabia and Japan both picked up wins, while Australia and the United Arab Emirates have fallen further behind.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s draw and Thailand’s defeat on Thursday have given the pair a mountain to climb now to avoid their dreams of a place at Russia 2018 being extinguished.
Saudi Arabia will look to follow up their impressive 3-0 away win in Thailand with the visit of Iraq, while Japan seek to keep pace with the Saudis and secure a similar result against the Southeast Asians who travel to Saitama.
Australia, meanwhile, must hope they can end a run of four consecutive draws in what looks a crucial clash with the UAE in Sydney.
Australia v United Arab Emirates Venue: Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney Kick-off: March 28, 20:00 UTC+11
Japan v Thailand Venue: Saitama Stadium 2002, Saitama Kick-off: March 28, 19:35 UTC+9
Saudi Arabia v Iraq Venue: King Abdullah Sports City, Jeddah Kick-off: March 28, 20:30 UTC+3