Matchday Two: Five things to look out for
Kuala Lumpur: Round Two of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 kicked off in spectacular fashion on Thursday with 16 matches across the Continent.
Ahead of Matchday Two, which takes place on Tuesday, the-AFC.com has selected five things to look out for as the teams take another step towards successful qualification.
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1. New men at the helm
Marc Wilmots and Hervé Renard will make their competitive bows as head coaches of Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia respectively.
Both teams, together with Asia's three other representatives at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia - Australia, Japan and Korea Republic - did not feature on Matchday One.
Wilmots took charge of Iran in May, while Saudi Arabia appointed Renard in July, and both have been set the same target - qualification for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
It is a target both will confident of achieving, having enjoyed successful coaching careers, and with the talent at their disposal, Wilmots and Renard will be expecting nothing less than three points against Hong Kong and Yemen respectively on Tuesday.
2. Elkeson to make China PR debut?
China PR also kick their campaign on Tuesday and their starting line-up will be one of Tuesday’s most eagerly awaited, with focus on whether Brazil-born Elkeson will start in the Group A clash against Maldives in Malé.
Elkeson, now also known as Ai Kesen, recently received his Chinese citizenship and the Guangzhou Evergrande striker has spoken of his fierce desire to power China PR to only their second FIFA World Cup Finals.
Should Elkeson make his debut, the 30-year-old will be the first footballer without Chinese ancestry to play for China PR.
3. Almoez Ali the goalscoring machine
Almoez Ali lit up the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 with his record-breaking nine goals as Qatar powered to the title and the Al Duhail forward has continued from where he left off.
Ali scored a fabulous hat-trick as the West Asians cruised to a 6-0 win over Afghanistan on Matchday One, taking his tally to 13 international goals in 2019, and Qatar will be counting on the 23-year-old to power them against India at Doha’s Jassim bin Hamad Stadium on Tuesday.
4. Malaysia vs UAE, four years on
It was just over four years ago that the United Arab Emirates inflicted Malaysia’s heaviest ever defeat, with the West Asians winning their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia and AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Asian Qualifiers tie 10-0 in Abu Dhabi.
Malaysia, to their credit, rebounded in the corresponding tie as they restricted UAE to a 2-1 win in Kuala Lumpur.
Much, however, has changed for Malaysia since then, and their thrilling 3-2 win over Indonesia in Jakarta on Matchday One will have boosted their confidence further, with the Harimau Malaya eager to gain a measure of revenge against a UAE side kicking off their campaign.
5. Thailand danger for Indonesia
Having suffered a heartbreaking stoppage time defeat to Malaysia on Thursday, Indonesia will be desperate for three points at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium on Tuesday.
Victory, however, is far from assured as Indonesia's second successive ASEAN derby will see them hosting Thailand.
Thailand opened their campaign with a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Vietnam and Akira Nishino's side will be targeting their first win just as fiercely, setting the stage for yet another thriller at one of Asia’s iconic football venues.
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