AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar: 5 things to look out for on Matchday One
Kuala Lumpur: The much-anticipated opening fixtures of the AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar is set to kick off on Thursday with 12 matches across the Continent.
Ahead of Matchday One, which takes place on Thursday, the-AFC.com has selected five things to look out for as the 12 hopefuls for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar embark on the final stage of their campaign.
AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar: Difficult IR Iran hurdle for Syria
Tehran: Islamic Republic of Iran will look to build on an air of invincibility at Azadi Stadium when they host Syria on Matchday One of the AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar on Thursday.
Returning to one of Asia's great footballing venues for the first time since October 2019 gives Team Melli the chance to extend an impressive home record which has seen them go unbeaten in competitive matches in Tehran since 2012.
The venue provided the backdrop for away day disappointment for all of Korea Republic, Uzbekistan, China PR and Qatar during the Final Round of Qualifiers for Russia 2018, with Syria the only team to avoid defeat there thanks to the 2-2 draw they achieved after Iran had already qualified.
AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar: Korea Republic braced for tough Iraq
Seoul: Despite being led by an in-form Son Heung-min, Korea Republic must not take opponents Iraq, under newly appointed coach Dick Advocaat, for granted in their AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar opener at Seoul World Cup Stadium on Thursday.
Korea Republic have eased through the AFC Asian Qualifiers so far, winning Group H with five wins and a draw, scoring 22 and conceding just once, but the competition is set to step up a gear in a Group A that features some difficult encounters, not least Thursday's Matchday One opponents Iraq.
Veteran Dutch coach Advocaat, 73, was appointed to the helm at the beginning of August and, as such, will bring with him a wealth of experience and a new-look and approach to a team that is already bristling with talent. Korea Republic coach Paulo Bento is well-aware of the challenge of the unknown that his charges face.
AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar: Japan confident as Oman loom
Osaka: Hajime Moriyasu will look to embrace the positives of Japan’s run to the semi-finals at the Olympic Games as he leads the Samurai Blue into their opening game of the AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar on Thursday against Oman at Suita City Football Stadium.
Moriyasu, who serves as both the Olympic and senior men’s national team coach, led the country’s U24 squad to fourth place at Tokyo 2020 after guiding the Samurai Blue into the AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar with a perfect record.
The Japanese won all eight of their games in Group F to advance and the former Sanfrecce Hiroshima boss is now looking to successfully merge his two squads as the country pushes for a seventh straight FIFA World Cup qualification.
AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar: Australia, China PR to square off in unique circumstances
Doha: Australia will look to overcome numerous obstacles thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic when they meet China PR in their opening AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar Group B fixture on Thursday.
For the first time since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, the Socceroos will play a competitive home match at this stage of the Asian Qualifiers on foreign soil, with quarantine restrictions forcing the Matchday One clash away from their preferred venue of Sydney.
That means that Australia's final lap on the Road to Qatar will begin at the destination itself, with Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium to serve as the venue for a clash that could shape both sides’ World Cup ambitions.
AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar: Saudi Arabia wary of Vietnam threat
Riyadh: History will count for little when five-time FIFA World Cup participants Saudi Arabia get their Group B campaign in the Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar 2022 against a Vietnam side dreaming of becoming the first ASEAN nation to reach the global stage since the inception of the AFC.
Both sides went into the final matchday of the second round of the Asian Qualifiers in need of a result to seal the top spot of their respective groups.
Saudi Arabia accomplished their task with a 3-0 win over Uzbekistan to top Group D, while Vietnam fell just short with a 3-2 defeat to the UAE, meaning they finished second, but an overall strong run in Group G ensured they progressed as one of the five best runners-up.
AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar: UAE, Lebanon seek winning starts
Dubai: The United Arab Emirates open their AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar Group A campaign against Lebanon, in the first of both sides’ two games in the current international window.
The UAE had passed through the previous stage with flying colours, topping Group G with six wins from eight games while Lebanon just about squeezed through as one of the best runners-up in Group H, having managed a credible draw at home and an unfortunate loss away to Korea Republic on the way, with the two sides facing off once again at this stage of the Qualifiers.