Home bankers in Asian qualifying

[WORLD CUP 2010 QUALIFYING] The fourth round of games in Asia's final qualifying phase takes place Wednesday, with the two groups of five teams already showing clear favorites. Japan and Australia, both with maximum points so far, can claim the top two spots if they win home games against Uzbekistan and Qatar respectively, while in Group Two leader North Korea travel to regional giant Iran.
 
GROUP ONE
Australia played Qatar twice already this year in an earlier qualifying round, and won both games by a total of six goals to one, so will have little to fear in Brisbane from the visitors. It also welcomes back Everton midfielder Tim Cahill for his first international in eight months. Qatar, meanwhile, has a new coach in Frenchman Bruno Metsu since those 3-0 and 3-1 defeats, and he's promised a new approach to taking on Australia (presumably one that doesn't involve conceding three goals).
 
Qatar is lucky to be there at all after eliminating Iraq with the help of an ineligible Brazilian later banned for life by world governing body FIFA. FIFA ignored its own rules in allowing Qatar's victory over Iraq to stand, claiming that Qatar was not to blame. All Iraq's legal appeals to have the result overturned were turned down. Any neutrals with a sense of soccer morality may find themselves rooting for the Socceroos.
 
Japan, fresh off a 3-2 road triumph in Bahrain, welcomes pointless Uzbekistan, which has lost its first two qualifiers. The Uzbeks will need at least a point in Saitama to stand any chance of progressing to South Africa.
 
Wednesday October 15
Australia vs. Qatar (5:30 am)
Japan vs. Uzbekistan (6:32 am)

Standings: Qatar (4 points), Japan (3), Australia (3), Bahrain (1), Uzbekistan (0)
 
GROUP TWO
Metsu headed for Qatar after quitting at the United Arab Emirates, which like Uzbekistan in Group One has lost its first two games. A road trip to South Korea, which has played in all of the last six World Cup finals, is hardly the sort of game that will likely kick off its points tally, and defeat in Seoul will as good as confine the UAE's qualifying campaign to the trashcan. The game is being carried on Fox Soccer Channel (delayed coverage at 11 am Eastern Time).
 
The tie of the round is in Tehran, where in geopolitical terms an Islamic dictatorship will take on a communist one. It's not clear if the game will be shown live at the State Department, but in soccer terms Iran needs to win to keep in touch with group leader North Korea. Iran's coach Ali Daei called up veteran midfielder Ali Karimi (109 caps), who was suspended in May for criticizing the Iranian soccer federation, but who was then reinstated after intervention from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Karimi, however, is clearly a man of pride and turned down Daei's invitation.
 
Wednesday October 15
South Korea vs. United Arab Emirates (7 am)
Iran vs. North Korea (8:30 am)
Standings: North Korea (4 points), Saudi Arabia (4), Iran (1), South Korea (1), United Arab Emirates (0).
 
Format: The top two teams from each group will qualify directly for South Africa 2010. The third-placed teams from each group will play a home-and-away playoff, with the winner advancing to the inter-confederation play-off with Oceania winners New Zealand.

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