Three-time champions Iran along with Oman, Kuwait, China, Qatar and Uzbekistan could all seal qualification for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup on Tuesday as the battle for the last remaining berths at the finals in Australia intensifies.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain became the first sides to advance from the qualifiers on Friday, with defending champions Japan, hosts Australia, Korea Republic and DPR Korea having already secured passage to the finals, which will be held in from January 9-31, 2015.
And with six sides on the verge of sealing their passage heading into the penultimate round of fixtures this week, that could potentially only leave just two qualification places available when the qualifiers resume at the start of next year.
Iran, who won the title in 1968, 1972 and 1976, beat Thailand 3-0 in Bangkok on Friday thanks to goals from Ashkan Dejagah, Reza Ghoochannejhad and Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Carlos Queiroz’s side only need to avoid defeat in Lebanon on Tuesday to advance from Group B.
But should unbeaten Iran claim all three points at Sports City Stadium in Beirut, Kuwait could complete the qualification picture in Group B with victory over Thailand following their goalless draw with Lebanon last week.
“We know that we have to win against Iran next Tuesday and we are confident that we can do so if we put in a good performance just like we did in the second half today when we were close to achieving our target,” said Lebanon coach Giuseppe Giannini following the draw with Kuwait on Saturday.
And despite seeing their planned meeting with Jordan last week postponed due to their opponents’ involvement in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, unbeaten Oman can also secure qualification with victory over Syria.
Syria, though, welcome Oman to PAS Stadium in Iran having kept their qualification hopes alive in Group A with a 4-0 win over Singapore on Friday.
Following their 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier with Uruguay, Jordan will resume their AFC Asian Cup campaign with a trip to Muscat at the end of January with Hossam Hassan’s side having also made an unbeaten start to the qualifiers.
China, meanwhile, welcome Saudi Arabia to Xi’an looking to join the three-time winners in also securing their place at the finals in Australia.
The Saudis sealed their passage from Group C with two games to spare following a 2-1 win over Iraq in Dammam on Friday, while China claimed sole possession of second place with a 1-0 win over Indonesia.
And with 2007 champions Iraq slipping four points adrift ahead of their trip to Gelora Bung Karno Stadium to face winless Indonesia, 2004 finalists China know they simply need to match the result in Jakarta to progress.
Qatar can qualify from Group D alongside Bahrain with victory over Malaysia, although the hosts return to Shah Alam Stadium needing to win to keep their hopes alive.
Ismaeel Abdulatif scored the only goal last week as Bahrain secured their fourth consecutive AFC Asian Cup appearance following a 1-0 win over Malaysia, with Qatar establishing a five point cushion in second place after recording a 4-1 victory over Yemen.
“We are looking forward to finishing on top of the group and we have good chances to do so,” said Qatar coach Fahad Thani following the win over Yemen at the weekend.
“We will go into the game against Malaysia with different tactics as we will be playing away and our opponents want to have a good result at home.”
And finally, 2011 semi-finalists Uzbekistan travel to Hong Kong with Mirdjalal Kasimov’s side knowing they only need to avoid defeat to qualify from Group E alongside the UAE.
On Friday, the UAE maintained their 100% record with a 4-0 home win over Hong Kong, with Uzbekistan claiming outright possession of second place after beating Vietnam 3-0 in Hanoi.
Should Uzbekistan secure qualification, Hong Kong could still seal a first AFC Asian Cup appearance since 1968 with one place in the finals available for the best third-place finisher from across all five groups.
“In football there is victory and defeat and we took advantage of the game and we must try our best to fix the mistakes that we had in the next training sessions if we want to have good results in the last two matches,” said Hong Kong coach Kim Pan-gon following their defeat in Abu Dhabi.
“Again congratulations to the UAE and I hope that we can get good points in order to achieve our target and finish second in the group.”
The winners of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup, to be played in the Maldives in March next year, will complete the 16-team line-up for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
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