The big winners in the latest Asian WC-qualifying rounds was the three giants (Iran, Japan and Saudi Arabia) who secured the maximum of 6 points on their tally. It is, pretty much, the expected nations involved in the race for Russia 2018 at this point. Although there’s still a chance the world will make a new acquaintance next year.
With three games to go, Iran has Group A in a choke hold after going 4 points clear of South Korea and 5 of Uzbekistan, who only managed to get 3 points each, with the remarkable goal difference of 6-0 from 7 games. It looks like the Persians can start making their travel arrangements for next summers Russian adventure already. Even though they have Uzbekistan and South Korea in the two upcoming matches they still would only have to beat Syria at home in the final round to secure their place in the main competition, as the two challengers play each other in Uzbekistan at the same time.
South Korea were involved in the most interesting match, both before and after, in the past week when they travelled to China. Tensions between the two nations have been even bigger than usual of late and some media outlets in China didn’t make it better as they pushed a mean spirited angle in the pre-match build up. It ended up being China’s, perhaps, biggest win ever after Yu Dabao headed home the only goal (I might stand corrected by some statistician in future but I’m always perplexed by teams leaving the post unmanned at corners). It was only China’s second win against their rivals ever, and the first one in a game of this magnitude. Unfortunately, the win only painted over the problems in terms of quality in this Chinese side and, for the sake of the CFA, we should hope they don’t take this as a sign that things are progressing smoothly. The 1-0 loss in Iran that followed may, however, have cooled it off a bit.
Luckily for Korea, Uzbekistan misstepped almost as bad with a 1-0 loss in Syria, and after both sides won their next match by those same numbers (S.Korea to Syria and the Uzbekis to Qatar) it looks like the final round will be the decider as the sides face off in Uzbekistan. Syria looks impressive, given the circumstances and Qatar, missing a couple of their imported players, may only have lost by 1-0 to both Iran and Uzbekistan, but it looks like 2022’s WC-hosts still have a long way to go.
Group A after 7 out of 10 rounds:
Iran 17p +6
South Korea 13p +2
Uzbekistan 12p +2
Syria 8p -1
China 5p -4
Qatar 4p -5
Japan (4-0 to Thailand and 2-0 to United Arab Emirates) and Saudi Arabia (3-0 and 1-0 against Thailand and Iraq respectively) both brought the full 6 points back home and extended the distance to Australia to 3 point. I saw both teams matches against Thailand (Japan on the telly and Saudi Arabia live) and Japan has, in my opinion, the best team in the group by far, on paper as well as on the pitch. The margins were a bit too big in both matches but Japan won it early and the huge gap in quality, especially up front, was obvious, Saudi Arabia didn’t secure the win in a tight match until Thailand scored an own goal after 84 minutes and with 3-0 in overtime, tells a different story than what was displayed.
Australia have dropped from the top spot down to third, thanks to two straigh ties (2-2 against Thailand and now 1-1 to Iraq), but still have a decent chance to secure a direct place in the WC after beating UAE 2-0 on tuesday. Considering what I’ve seen of the Australian sides in the Champions League, as well as the national team (by far the weakest Aussie side I’ve seen), it feels like Saudi Arabia will end whatever hope they have left as they travel down under in the next round.
United Arab Emirates were, somewhat surprising, still in it up until a week ago but double losses means their run is as good as over. Iraq have been out of it for a while but will still be very happy with taking a point of Australia. Only being in the final group stage is a huge success for Thailand and they’re really only there to see and learn and, despite the results, there was still some positives to take away from the two last matches.
Group B with 3 matches to go:
Japan 16p +9
Saudiarabien 16p +8
Australien 13p +5
För. Arabemiraten 9p -3
Irak 4p -4
Thailand 1p -16