Kuala Lumpur: Continental powerhouse Japan will begin their campaign against a Myanmar side reeling from a shock opening defeat, while Mongolia and Tajikistan will look to advance on winning starts as Group F of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 continues on Tuesday.
Predicted by many to top the group, four-time Asian champions Japan will be aiming for nothing less than a win in Yangon, while group leadership is on the line in the clash between Mongolia and Tajikistan in Ulaanbaatar.
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MONGOLIA v TAJIKISTAN
Given the pedigree of some of the contenders in Group F, few would have predicted the meeting between Mongolia and Tajikistan would be a top-of-the-table clash, but that is precisely what fans in Ulaanbaatar will be treated to after both sides won their opening matches last Thursday.
Mongolia’s 1-0 win over Myanmar was their first ever at this stage of the competition, while Tajikistan earned a deserved victory against Kyrgyz Republic to continue their improvement under head coach Usmon Toshev.
While Tajikistan picked up away wins against both Nepal and Bangladesh in AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Qualifiers, World Cup qualifying victories abroad have been few and far between for the Central Asians, with a 2-1 win over Kyrgyz Republic in 2004 their last success on their travels on the road to the global showpiece.
Buoyed by an impressive win, which included more than 20 shots at goal against a Kyrgyz Republic side who reached the AFC Asian Cup last-16 stage eight months ago, Tajikistan have every right to be confident of bringing that drought to an end at MFF Stadium on Tuesday.
But while Toshev’s charges will enter the clash as slight favourites, Mongolia will themselves be full of confidence after their historic Matchday One win over Myanmar.
These are halcyon days for Mongolian football, with 18-year-old Dulguun Amaraa’s winning goal continuing a success story which began in June with victory over two legs against Brunei Darussalam.
Another three points on Tuesday and Mongolia will not only sit atop Group F for at least the next month, but they may start to dream of a first ever appearance at the AFC Asian Cup.
MONGOLIA v TAJIKISTAN
Venue: MFF Stadium, Ulaanbaatar
Kick:off: 1700 hours (UTC+8)
MYANMAR v JAPAN
Perennial qualifiers Japan begin their campaign with trip to Yangon, where they will meet a Myanmar side under pressure to get points on the board after an unsuccessful visit to Mongolia.
The Samurai Blue haven’t missed out on a major tournament in 25 years, and while the household names of Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda are no longer present, a new generation of players have the chance to stamp their own authority on an Asian Qualifiers campaign.
Present in Hajime Moriyasu’s squad are Ritsu Doan, 21, and Takefusa Kubo, 18, – both of whom secured high-profile transfers in the recently-closed European window – as well as Takuma Minamino, the 24-year-old Red Bull Salzburg forward who impressed in Japan’s run to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 final in February.
Minamino and fellow Asian Cup star Yuya Osako were on the scoresheet in Japan’s comfortable 2-0 friendly win over Paraguay last Thursday – an outing in stark contrast to Myanmar’s shock defeat to Mongolia earlier that afternoon.
Having never qualified for the FIFA World Cup, and without an appearance at the AFC Asian Cup Finals in over half a century, Myanmar were never among the favourites to top Group F, but Thursday’s Matchday One clash in Ulaanbaatar was one they would have anticipated winning.
Instead, despite having the ascendancy in nearly all statistical indicators, Miodrag Radulovic’s men suffered a 1-0 defeat, making their first home match of the campaign one of heightened importance.
While a return to the familiar surrounds of Yangon’s Thuwunna Stadium is a positive for the Southeast Asians, they will be without suspended winner Maung Maung Lwin, increasing the degree of difficulty in what is already a daunting task against one of Asia’s football superpowers.
MYANMAR v JAPAN
Venue: Thuwunna Stadium, Yangon
Kick-off: 1850 hours (UTC+6:30)
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