Fifa's decision to allow the Australia-Iraq World Cup qualifier to proceed has left the Socceroos facing an opponent with plenty to prove.
|Iraq need to turn their qualification |
form around [GALLO/GETTY]
The Australia-Iraq fixture is one of several vital matches from Saturday through Monday as Asian nations resume their qualifying campaigns for the
2010 World Cup.
Fifa announced Thursday that it would allow the game to go ahead, putting a provisional stay on any suspension of the Iraqi team.
The world's governing body had considered a 12-month ban of Iraq for governmental interference in the national football association, but received assurances that a dissolution of the national Olympic committee and sporting bodies did not impact the football association.
Pim Verbeek, the Dutch coach of Australia, was happy the match would be played but warned his players Iraq will go in as more dangerous opponents now they have won their fight to play.
"This is definitely not to our advantage what has happened,'' Verbeek said.
"They will want to show everybody they deserve to be in the World Cup and we have to be alert on that.
"It was not going to be an easy game already and it will be more difficult now.''
Australia, which leads Group One on four points from two games, would have received six points for two forfeited games, including the return leg on June 7, had the ban been put in place, and one foot in the next qualifying round.
However the green light for the game prevented a heavy financial cost for the scrapping of a home fixture before a sell-out crowd, and provided a chance for the predominantly European-based squad to play a competitive game in their club off-season.
Asian champion Iraq is bottom of Group One, which includes Qatar and China who meet Monday, with one point from two games.
The top two teams from each group will proceed to the final qualifying round, which will be made up of two five-team groups.
Japan call on Nakamura
|Shunsuke Nakamura has been called |
in for Japan [GALLO/GETTY]
Japan had been expected to comfortably finish top of Group Two, but had a shock 1-0 defeat at Bahrain in March.
In response, coach Takeshi Okada has summoned Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura for the first time in the qualification campaign for Monday's hosting of Oman.
"From the Celtic games I've seen, the opponents keep him away from the ball often,'' Okada said.
"I'm just impressed by his touch, his accuracy and ability to read the game.
"We cannot afford to lose the World Cup qualifiers. We are determined to win and we'll keep it up.''
Nakamura is eager to help the three-time Asian champion get back on track.
"I have felt a sense of crisis after we lost one match. We need to pile up points as soon as possible,'' Nakamura said.
Group leader Bahrain expects to maintain its perfect start away to pointless Thailand, but is wary of the hosts, who desperately need a result.
South Korea on track
|Ji-Sung Park, right, will add some class |
to South Korea [GALLO/GETTY]
Asia's most successful World Cup team, South Korea, is on course to reach the next stage.
The Group Three leader hosts Jordan at Seoul on Saturday.
Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung is focused after the disappointment of not being selected for the final of the Uefa Champions League on May 21.
"There will be more opportunities in the future and I will try harder,'' said Park in Seoul.
"Qualification for the World Cup is now my biggest goal.''
Ahn Jung-hwan, a veteran of South Korea's 2002 World Cup campaign, was recalled to the squad for the first time since 2006.
North Korea is level on four points with its southern neighbor and is poised to reach seven points with a win away at central Asian struggler Turkmenistan.
Iran struck by internal strife
Iran is preparing for a big game while dealing with off-the-field problems.
With two points from the opening two games of Group Five, Iran must host the United Arab Emirates without star player Ali Karimi.
The former Bayern Munich star and 2004 Asian Player of the Year was thrown off the team after criticising the policies of the Iranian Football Federation in a recent interview.
Third and fourth-place meet as Syria host Kuwait.
In Group Four, perennial World Cup qualifier Saudi Arabia is looking to bounce back from a 3-0 defeat in Uzbekistan when it meets Lebanon.
The Uzbeks lead the group with maximum points from two matches and should extend that run at Singapore.