BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — With Japan becoming the first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup last week, the focus in Asian qualifying turns to the progress of South Korea and Australia.
South Korea, trying to qualify for the World Cup for the eighth consecutive time, plays Uzbekistan in a key match in Group A on Tuesday. The Koreans lead the group and can be all but assured of securing a spot in Brazil with a win over second-place Uzbekistan in Seoul.
The Australians, meanwhile, will need a win against Jordan in Melbourne to move into second spot in Group B and stay in the hunt for a third consecutive trip to the World Cup.
These are the key matchups in the penultimate set of games that will determine the four direct entries from Asia. The top two teams in each group will qualify, with the third-place teams in each group meeting in a playoff for the right to face a South American team for a spot the draw.
Japan, with the luxury of knowing it has qualified for Brazil with a match to spare, takes on Iraq at Doha, Qatar, while Iran hosts Lebanon in Tehran in Tuesday’s other matches.
South Korea and Uzbekistan are level with 11 points each in Group A, though South Korea holds the edge in goal differential. Iran is in third place with 10 points, with Qatar in fourth with seven and Lebanon in last place with five.
Australia finds itself in a precarious position in third place with seven points in Group B, two behind Oman with one match in hand. But if the Australians can win two home matches in eight days against Jordan and Iraq, they should clinch the second direct qualifying spot.
Oman has played seven matches and will face Jordan away next week in its last match.
Australia coach Holger Osieck won’t say until match day whether he’ll be making any changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Japan in Saitama last week. Regular holding midfielder Mile Jedinak and striker Alex Brosque are both fit again for selection.
“In football, you should never look back. The only thing you get is a sore neck,” Osieck told Australian Associated Press on Monday. “I look ahead. Jordan is a different game (to Japan). Everyone in our squad is ready to play, so it’s a good situation but a tough one for me, as well, to make the decisions.”
The Australians had a 1-0 lead in Japan last week until conceding a penalty in the last minute for a hand-ball.
There was a minor diplomatic issue ahead of Tuesday’s match when Jordan coach Adnan Hamad said he had been detained by authorities at the Melbourne airport for several hours last week to make secondary checks on his visa.
Hamad said he was more concerned, however, about the scheduling of an Australian Football League match at Docklands Stadium on Sunday, just 48 hours before the World Cup qualifier. That meant his team would not be able to see or train on the surface until Monday night.
“It should have been organized in a different way,” Hamad said through an interpreter.
South Korea is coming off a disappointing 1-1 draw at Lebanon last week and faces Iran in another home match at Ulsan next week.
South Korea and Uzbekistan played to a 2-2 draw in Tashkent in September. That match began a series of mediocre performances by South Korea, which went on to lose to Iran in October and needed a last-second goal to defeat Qatar 2-1 in March.
South Korea also got a late goal in its draw last week with Lebanon.
But South Korea coach Choi Kang-hee sounded optimistic ahead of Tuesday’s match.
“Uzbekistan is a beatable opponent,” Choi told Yonhap news agency at the National Football Center in Paju, north of Seoul. “I don’t think Uzbekistan is such a strong opponent. It’s important what kind of strategies they will bring because they have some experience against us.”
Center back Kim Young-gwon, who plays for FC Basel in Switzerland, said the Koreans had to improve their defense.
“We’ve been giving up goals almost every game and we need to address that,” Kim said. “We were burned in set pieces, and we have to do a better job of communicating with each other and try to be on the same page.”
Uzbekistan’s final match will be at home against Qatar next week.