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MD5 Preview - Group D: Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia primed for titanic tussle

Kuala Lumpur: Pole position in Group D will be up for grabs on Thursday when table-topping Uzbekistan entertain Saudi Arabia in what promises to be an enthralling encounter.

With qualification for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 on the line, Uzbekistan currently lead the way with seven points from three games, one more than their Saudi counterparts who are second.

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After a shock defeat to Palestine on Matchday One, Uzbekistan have bounced back in style thanks to two successive wins – results which have sent them to the top of the standings ahead of this week’s meeting with Saudi Arabia.

Preview - Matchdays 5 & 6

Their latest three-point haul came away to Singapore on Matchday Four when Odil Ahmedov’s early strike, followed by a brace from Eldor Shomurodov, secured a 3-1 victory that has maintained Uzbekistan’s push at Group D’s summit.

Despite his side’s success in Southeast Asia last time out, Uzbekistan head coach Vadim Abramov has been quick to focus on what will, arguably, be a much tougher test against three-time AFC Asian Cup winners Saudi Arabia.

“I see ahead, and we have Saudi (Arabia) coming. I look at the next games. The game against Singapore is already history. I’m already looking ahead,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, head to the Pakhtakor Stadium looking to breathe new life into their campaign after dropping yet more points in a 0-0 draw away to Palestine last time out.

The West Asians have now drawn two of their three matches, with head coach Hervé Renard believing there is still room for improvement.

“We were under huge pressure but we gave our best,” declared the Frenchman after last month’s stalemate. “We still need more time in order to increase coherence between the players.”

Venue: Pakhtakor Stadium, Tashkent
Kick-off: 17:00 (UTC +5)


Yemen host Palestine in the neutral venue of Bahrain on Thursday needing a win to reignite their campaign and realistically remain in contention with the group’s pacesetters.

Despite draws against both Singapore and Saudi Arabia, Sami Al Nash’s charges currently trail table-topping Uzbekistan by four points and are in danger of dropping out of the reckoning should they fail to register a positive result against their West Asian rivals.

Nevertheless, Yemen will be buoyed by the fact that have lost only one of their three matches so far, with this week’s visit of Palestine representing an ideal opportunity to bolster their hopes of qualifying ahead of next week’s match against Singapore.

For their part, third-placed Palestine travel to Bahrain knowing that a resounding victory could well see them assume pole position should Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia share the spoils in the group’s other match.

After an opening day win over Uzbekistan and a subsequent defeat in Singapore, Palestine drew 0-0 with Saudi Arabia on Matchday Four – a game which left head coach Noureddine Ould Ali rueing a handful of missed opportunities while hinting of brighter things to come.

“The draw that we got was not bad at all, but we wanted to get the three points and we had a chance to get away with a victory,” said the Algerian.

“We are a good team and we have players who are able to achieve positive results.”

Venue: Sheikh Ali Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Stadium, Muharraq, Bahrain
Kick-off: 18:00 (UTC +3)

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