Australia, Iraq need wins as halfway approaches
Holger Osieck and his Australian squad are already in the danger zone as the last stage of Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup approaches the halfway mark.
Neither Australia nor Iraq can afford to lose when they meet in a Group B clash at Doha on Tuesday.
Both teams have two points from the opening three games. With Japan already racing ahead in first place on 10 points, the second automatic qualification spot in the group is a four-way tussle. Jordan, with four points, can strengthen its hold on second place with a win when it hosts Oman at Muscat.
After defeat in Jordan last month, which caused Australia to slip from 25th to 34th in FIFA's world rankings, the Socceroos are aware that another loss would be a massive setback in its hopes to qualify for a third successive World Cup.
''Everybody was unhappy but that doesn't help us,'' Australia coach Osieck said in the wake of the upset loss at Jordan. ''To be unhappy or to really step up and resist and fight against it is a different story, and I can tell you I have the right determination for that and I will get it across to the players.''
The loss at Amman deepened concerns about Australia's form - the team has lost three of its last six matches and its only win was a 3-0 victory in a friendly against Lebanon.
Brett Holman, who plays for English Premier League team Aston Villa, is urging his teammates to return to the standards set when Osieck first took the reins in September 2010.
''He wants to get back to when he first took over and to get back to that attacking football and those combinations,'' Holman said. ''He wants to get back to the way things were. I think if you look at the last few games, we haven't done that at all - Lebanon was decent but ... then we went to Jordan and didn't look good at all. The last few games we haven't played great football.''
A draw would suit Australia more than Iraq, because three of its last four group games are at home.
Iraq coach Zico told Brazilian television last week that he had not been paid for four months, expressing his disappointment for the ''lack of consideration'' for his work. In Iraq's last qualifier, at Japan in September, the Brazilian manager made 10 changes to Iraq's starting lineup. It remains to be seen whether the stars of the nation's 2007 Asian Cup win will be recalled on Tuesday.
While Australia canceled a planned warmup on Friday against the United Arab Emirates in Dubai in order to focus on training, Zico took his team to Sweden to lose 6-0 in a friendly against Brazil.
Group B leader Japan is inactive this month, but upstaged this week's qualifiers with a 1-0 away win at France on the weekend.
In Group A, the top two teams meet when leader South Korea travels to Tehran. There is serious pressure on Iran coach Carlos Queiroz after last month's loss in Lebanon.
With the Tehran media critical of the performance in Iran's first ever loss to Lebanon, the players issued an official apology to the fans and Queiroz, former Real Madrid and Portugal coach, called for unity.
''There is no reason to panic, we have four points,'' Queiroz said. ''If we beat South Korea we are top. My players and staff are focused only on that target.
''The most important thing, we need to be united as we are in the middle of qualification because our goal is to qualify for the World Cup. We have to fight against Qatar, Uzbekistan, South Korea - these are our opponents - we should not be fighting among ourselves.''
South Korea arrives in Tehran with seven points from three games. A first ever victory in the country would put the team within sight of an eighth successive World Cup, and the South Koreans have the extra advantage of having home games in three of the four remaining fixtures.
''Coming to Tehran is always tough,'' said South Korea coach Choi Kang-hee. ''We have to adapt to the altitude and the conditions and we need time. Having said that, the players have lots of experience in these kinds of situations and I can rely on them to get the job done.''
Choi is set to select Son Heung-min in attack. The 20 year-old Son has scored four goals in seven games this season for Hamburg in the Bundesliga and has been linked with a move to English Premier League giant Liverpool.
''I am happy that as I am playing well for my club team, I have been selected again for the national team,'' Son said. ''It is good to see my teammates again and train and prepare for the game. I don't mind where I play. I have played as a second striker, on the left and on the right. It is not a big problem. I like all the positions and feel comfortable.''
In the group's other fixture, bottom team Uzbekistan, with two points, need points away in Qatar, in third place with four points.