AFC Asian Qualifiers: Battle for London 2012 Goes Down to the Wire

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Japan, Syria, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan are in the hunt for the two remaining qualification places for the 2012 Olympic Games as the race to join Korea Republic in London later this year reaches a climax on Wednesday.

After unbeaten Korea ensured a seventh consecutive appearance at the Olympic Games after defeating Oman last month, Japan need just a point at home to Bahrain to secure top spot in Group C and the UAE know a draw in Tashkent will seal qualification from Group B ahead of Uzbekistan.

With the runners-up in each group entering a three-way play-off in Vietnam at the end of March for the right to take on Senegal for a trip to London, Qatar and Oman face away games against Korea and already-eliminated Saudi Arabia respectively to secure second place in Group A.

Japan’s bid for a fifth successive Olympic Games appearance had been thrown into doubt following a 2-1 defeat in Syria earlier last month, but Takashi Sekizuka’s side responded positively and moved three points clear at the top of Group C with just one game remaining after beating Malaysia 4-0 in Kuala Lumpur on February 22

Also on Matchday Five, Bahrain recorded a third consecutive win after posting a 2-1 victory over Syria to leave all three teams separated by just three points.

Japan coach Sekizuka is monitoring the fitness of Cerezo Osaka’s Japan international Hiroshi Kiyotake and Urawa Reds midfielder Naoki Yamada.

Kiyotake has been sidelined since suffering a calf injury prior to the defeat in Syria last month, but featured in Cerezo’s J.League opener at the weekend, while Yamada started as Urawa lost to Sanfrecce on Saturday after picking up an injury following last month’s reverse in Jordan.

J.League Rookie of the Year Hiroki Sakai, meanwhile, followed up scoring in the win over Malaysia by netting for Kashiwa Reysol in the AFC Champions League last week against Thailand’s Buriram United.

Syria are favourites to secure at least a place in the play-offs ahead of their visit of basement side Malaysia, who have lost all five games, with Bahrain level on points but needing a minimum four-goal swing in their favour should the pair match each other’s results.

Japan, who beat Bahrain 2-0 in Manama in November, can still lose at the National Stadium in Tokyo and qualify, with Sekizuka’s side holding a superior positive goal difference over both Syria and Bahrain.

In Group B, the UAE can also lose by a single goal in Tashkent to advance ahead of Uzbekistan on goal difference.

After Iraq handed Uzbekistan their first defeat of the campaign on Matchday Five and the UAE ending Australia’s hopes after winning 1-0 in Abu Dhabi, Vadim Abramov’s side must hand the UAE their first defeat of group stage by at least two goals at Jar Stadium to condemn the visitors to the play-offs.

Winless Australia and Iraq, who beat Uzbekistan in Doha on Matchday Five thanks to Mustafa Abdulameer’s 88th minute winner, have only pride to play for in Gosford with Uzbekistan four points clear of the second-placed Iraqis.

Finally in Group A, Oman must beat already eliminated Saudi Arabia in Dammam to ensure second place behind Korea, who entertain Qatar at Seoul World Cup Stadium, with just one point separating the two play-off contenders.

Qatar, who beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 at home on Matchday Five, need at least a point against Korea, while hoping Saudi Arabia claim a first win of the campaign against Oman to keep their hopes alive.

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