Kuala Lumpur: After September’s action-packed start, the Continent’s leading national teams are set to return for Matchdays Three and Four of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023.
With records, streaks and qualification for the two biggest international tournaments on the Asian football calendar all on the line, the-AFC.com examines some of the stats and facts you need to know ahead of the 32 fixtures to come.
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Uzbekistan’s historic barrier
Their campaign may have got off to a disastrous start with a 2-0 defeat to Palestine last month – a result which preceded the end of Hector Cuper’s reign as head coach – but Uzbekistan still harbour hopes of reaching a first ever FIFA World Cup Finals ahead of this month’s fixtures against Yemen and Singapore.
Now under the tutelage of Vadim Abramov, the White Wolves will need to overturn three-decades of history to complete that objective. The United Arab Emirates were the last Asian team to reach the World Cup after losing their opening Qualifier, bouncing back from a 3-2 loss to Kuwait to advance to the global Finals for the only time in their history in 1990.
Guam’s shot at David and Goliath record
Home losses to Maldives and the Philippines last month mean Guam can scarcely afford another defeat when they face China PR in Guangzhou on Thursday, but, more than three points, a win at Tianhe Stadium would give them a rare piece of international football history.
The vast population discrepancy between the two nations – with 8,580 Chinese citizens for every resident of Guam – means that if Karl Dodd’s side emerge victorious, it will be the biggest upset by the basis on population in the game’s history, with the current record believed to be held by Curacao following their 3-1 win over India in June.
Sri Lanka’s mammoth task
While Guam face the week’s greatest challenge in terms of population, Sri Lanka will look to overcome the biggest rankings gulf when they head to Hwaesong to face World Number 37 Korea Republic on Thursday, with 165 places separating the two sides on the latest FIFA list.
As well as their current position on the global table, history suggests it will be a difficult task for the South Asians. The sides haven’t met in over 30 years, with Korea Republic racking up 10 unanswered goals in their two previous meetings.
DPR Korea’s form reversal
One of the most eagerly-anticipated fixtures of the coming international window is next Tuesday’s DPR Korea v Korea Republic clash in Pyongyang, where the hosts will look for their first ever competitive win against their neighbours.
Fuelling DPR Korea’s optimism is their recent form, which has taken a sharp turn for the better. Yun Jong-su’s have kept four consecutive clean sheets on the way to five wins a row; a far cry from their previous six matches, in which DPR Korea conceded a staggering 27 goals in a dreadful run of successive defeats.
Iraq’s long-awaited homecoming
After eight long years, Iraq will finally play an Asian Qualifiers match on home soil when they host Hong Kong in Basra on Thursday.
A 2-0 defeat to Jordan in Erbil in September 2011 was the last such match to be held in Iraq, and not since 2001 have regular competitive international fixtures been held in the nation; something that will soon change with both Islamic Republic of Iran and Bahrain to visit in November.
Australia’s daunting home record
Also returning home are on Thursday are Australia, who will pick up from last month’s 3-0 win in Kuwait with a clash against Nepal in Canberra, where the visitors will quite literally need to produce a once-in-a-generation result if they are to emerge with three points.
The Socceroos have not lost a FIFA World Cup Qualifier on home soil since a 1-0 defeat to China PR in 2008 and - given that result came with Australia’s progress to the next round already secured - one needs to go all the way back to a 2-0 loss to New Zealand in 1981 for their last home defeat in a live rubber on the road to the global Finals.
Singh saves, again and again
Malaysia’s Syafiq Ahmad and Qatar’s Almoez Ali may have made headlines with their Asian Qualifiers goal scoring exploits, but no shot stopper has done more to aid his team so far than Indian captain Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
The Bengaluru goalkeeper produced 16 saves in his opening two matches last month, conjuring 10 of them – including three in the opening 10 minutes - on the way to an excellent clean sheet performance in India’s 0-0 with Asian champions Qatar.
Maldives aim to undo history
Both sides collected three points from September’s opening Asian Qualifiers, but the Maldives will be desperate to improve their World Cup qualifying record against Syria when the two teams meet in Dubai on Thursday.
The South Asian nation has fared better against the Qasioun Eagles in recent times, even defeating them 2-1 in a 2012 friendly, but the two previous World Cup qualifying meetings between the sides, both in 1997, resulted in successive 12-0 wins for Syria.
A must-win match in Bishkek
Something has to give when Kyrgyz Republic face Myanmar in Bishkek on Thursday. Both sides failed to gather a point in last month’s opening fixtures, meaning another loss to either side could have potentially devastating ramifications on the roads to Qatar and China.
Despite Kyrgyz Republic’s historic run to the AFC Asian Cup Round of 16 in January, both sides have the identical record of only one win for their previous seven international matches, making Thursday’s clash one of the most crucial of the coming week.
Little to choose between Qatar and Oman
Another significant fixture in this international window is the one between 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar and Erwin Koeman’s Oman in Doha next Tuesday, with the two sides expected to fight for top spot in Group E and qualification for the AFC Asian Cup China 2023.
But fans expecting a clear group leader to emerge from the match may need to think again. The two sides have played out draws in six of their nine meetings since 2007.
Photos: AFC, AFP
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