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Asian giants in crucial qualifiers
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 06 - 09 - 2011

Asian big guns Japan and Australia face away ties in the latest round of qualifying games for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil Tuesday.
Japan takes on Asian Cup semifinalist Uzbekistan in Tashkent, while the Socceroos face a long journey to play Saudi Arabia in Dammam.
With all 20 nations playing one game at home and one away in the space of four days all over the continent, fatigue looms as a major issue. Australia has the most arduous journey, flying 12,900 kilometers from Brisbane to Dammam for a clash of two teams expecting to progress from Group D.
Japan and Australia will be aiming to kick their campaigns into life after leaving it perilously late to snatch winners in the opening games of the third-round group stage Friday.
The Blue Samurai squeaked past a dogged North Korean side thanks to a 94th-minute goal and Australia was just six minutes away from a humiliating draw at home to lowly Thailand when substitute Alex Brosque hit a winner to spare its blushes.
The match in Saudi Arabia will be much tougher and not just because of the travel. The host is now coached by Frank Rijkaard formerly boss of Barcelona and the Netherlands. The Dutchman led his team to a goalless draw in nearby Oman in the opening game.
Australia captain Lucas Neill played under Rijkaard at Galatasaray in Turkey and is expecting a tough test in the second match of Group D.
“He gets the players relaxed but also extremely confident in themselves, and he's shrewd,” Neill said. “He knows how to play the game. He's played it at the top level; he's coached it at the top level. He would see that as a great challenge and a great opportunity to get one over on us.”
Australia's coach Holger Osieck said his side nearly paid the price for poor execution against a Thai side 98 places below it in the FIFA rankings, and the German will expect a marked improvement against the Saudis.
South Korea goes to Kuwait and will be happy to pick up where it left off Friday, when a hat trick from Arsenal new boy Park Chu-young took it to a thumping 6-0 win over Lebanon.
China will be hoping to continue its successful start under new coach Jose Antonio Camacho away to Jordan, after its 2-1 win over Singapore, while the North Koreans face Tajikistan in Pyongyang.
Singapore takes on 2007 Asian champion Iraq at home and Thailand will look to pick itself up after the late heartbreak in Brisbane as it faces Oman in Bangkok.
Lebanon faces the United Arab Emirates at home and in Group E, Indonesia hosts Bahrain and Qatar takes on Iran in Doha.
Ten teams — winners and runners-up of the five third-round groups — will be drawn into two pools for the round-robin fourth stage, with the eventual top two in each section earning a ticket to Brazil.
The two third-placed teams will then face each other for the right to contest an intercontinental playoff.

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