Classics on the cards
Kuala Lumpur: History will be made in Pyongyang on October 15 when Korea Republic travel to face DPR Korea in their Asian Qualifiers tie for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 as the neighbouring rivals meet on the pitch in a competitive fixture in the northern nation for the first time.
The encounter – the first of two in Group H featuring the Koreans, with the second in Seoul on June 4, 2020 – headlines the second round of qualifying for the two tournaments that has thrown up an array of fascinating clashes that will often see traditional rivals go head-to-head for a berth in the next round of the campaign for places in Qatar and China PR.
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DPR Korea and Korea Republic have faced off in qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in the past, with both nations drawn together in both the third and fourth rounds to determine Asia’s representatives at the Finals in South Africa in 2010.
On that occasion, both nations qualified for the Finals – the first time the countries either side of the 38th Parallel have done so – although DPR Korea’s home fixtures in both phases in which they were drawn together were shifted to Shanghai’s Hongkou Stadium.
October’s meeting promises to be fascinating both on and off the pitch, with Paulo Bento leading a Korea Republic side among the favourites to qualify for the next phase of the competition and, in the longer term, to seal the country’s 10th straight appearance at the FIFA World Cup Finals.
For DPR Korea, the game will represent another step along the road towards returning to the FIFA World Cup, with the country harbouring hopes of a third appearance following those made in England in 1966 and in South Africa nine years ago.
But while the Koreas will no doubt dominate the headlines in a group that also features Lebanon, Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka, the epic clashes that await in the upcoming phase of qualifying are plentiful.
Tim Cahill caused a stir in Kuala Lumpur in July when the former Australia international drew Southeast Asian rivals Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam together in Group G with the United Arab Emirates and the first of those highly anticipated regional clashes comes on the opening day of the campaign.
The majestic Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in the heart of Jakarta will be heaving at the seams when Simon McMenemy leads his Indonesia team out to face Malaysia in front of what is expected to be a full-house of 90,000 passionate, vociferous fans on Thursday.
That meeting should set the tone for what promises to be an enthralling battle across the group over the coming 10 months, with meetings between Thailand and Vietnam sure to spark into life.
November 14, though, will be a date for any Asian football fan to circle in their diary as some of the heavyweights of the Continental game go head-to-head in what promises to be an epic – and pivotal - round as the first and second seeds in each group face off for the first time.
Tashkent will play host to one of the most enthralling battles that day as Uzbekistan take on Saudi Arabia, with both countries seeking to establish their dominance in Group D. Coaches Hector Cuper (pictured above, left) and Herve Renard (right) will provide a fascinating subplot as the pair renew their rivalry from their days working in Africa.
Graham Arnold will no doubt be scrolling through videos of the Socceroos’ defeat at the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 to find ways to ensure Vital Borkelmans does not manage a repeat of that surprise result when Australia travel to Amman to take on Jordan on the same day in Group B.
Iraq will host neighbours Islamic Republic of Iran in Group C with the added thrill of facing Team Melli on home soil for the first time in a FIFA World Cup qualifier since September 2001, while China will travel to take on Syria, the surprise package of the last qualifying campaign, in a key match-up in Group A.
Kyrgyz Republic, who made such a positive impact on the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 earlier this year, will face their biggest test since on the same day as they entertain Hajime Moriyasu’s Japan in Group F.
Fascinating clashes abound throughout the second phase of qualifying. The meetings between India and Bangladesh in Group F – the first of which is on October 15 - will resonate beyond the sport and every group boasts enthralling plots and subplots.
The countdown toward another thrilling campaign ticks ever louder.
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