Heat is on for Tehran clash
Iran v Saudi Arabia at the Azadi is the red-hot pick of the Asian WC qualifiers.
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2009 11:21 GMT

Daei takes on Bahrain in his record-breaking playing days [GALLO/GETTY]
One of the fiercest rivalries in world football sees Saudi Arabia come under the glare of 90,000 hostile Iranian fans at Tehran's Azadi Stadium as a raft of crucial Asian World Cup qualifiers kicks off at the weekend.

The last time the Arab team visited Tehran eight years ago, Iran's record scorer Ali Daei put the game to bed with two strikes in 10 second-half minutes.

Former Bayern Munich striker Daei is confident of continuing Saudi's winless run at the imposing Azadi ground as he orchestrates the home side from the dugout on Saturday.

Saudi struggle

Another win for Iran – in third place behind South Korea and North Korea and two points clear of the Saudis – would see the visitors struggle to qualify from Group B after appearances at the last four finals.

In the other matches, Bruno Metsu's Qatar must win in Uzbekistan if the Frenchman is to have a realistic chance of repeating his feat of seven years ago, when he took Senegal to their first World Cup.

The Qataris have fallen behind Australia and Japan in Group A as the Gulf State aims to impose its fledgling sporting credentials with a historic appearance at South Africa 2010.

Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura and his team face Bahrain, while North Korea play Group B whipping boys United Arab Emirates in a match that will be covered by Sportsworld's Wayne Hay in Pyongyang.

'Do or die'

"This is a do-or-die match for Saudi," Iran captain Karim Bagheri told the Asian Football Confederation website ahead of the face-off in Tehran.

Asian qualifying fixtures

Saturday March 28

Group A
 Uzbekistan v Qatar
 Japan v Bahrain

Group B
 Iran v Saudi Arabia
 North Korea v UAE

Wednesday April 1

Group A
 Bahrain v Qatar
 Australia v Uzbekistan

Group B
 South Korea v North Korea
 Saudi Arabia v UAE

"It's an important match for both teams, but there's more pressure on them.

"They're in danger of missing out on qualification so they have to open up and score against us."

Daei – who scored 109 times in 149 appearances for the national side – told Iran Sports Press TV he was in no doubt as to his side's superiority.

"Iran is better than Saudi Arabia in terms of technical points and players, and will defeat its opponent with the support of 100,000 Iranian fans in Tehran," Daei said.

The Saudi side will also be missing striker Yasser Al Qahtani, the 2007 Asian player of the year, who is under suspension for the Tehran match.

"Saudi have always given us tough matches and this one will be no different," Bagheri added.

"But we've never lost to Saudi in Iran and I hope we can get all three points."

He's got the Nak

Japan's Nakamura has been spending extra hours alone on the training ground plotting Bahrain's downfall in the qualifier at Saitama Stadium – and perfecting his free-kick "weapon".

"I've got them just about right," Nakamura said on Friday.

"I'm getting the ball up and over the wall nicely – it's nice to know you have that weapon."

Japan can seize top spot in Group A, at least for a few days, if they beat a stubborn Bahrain team who have frustrated them in recent games.

The Gulf side have beaten Japan in two of their last four meetings and another slip-up by the home side will increase the pressure on under-fire Japanese coach Takeshi Okada.

Japan have eight points, two behind unbeaten Australia – who play the Uzbeks on April 1 – and four ahead of Bahrain and Qatar halfway through the final full round of regional qualifying.

Bruno frank on injuries

Coach Metsu steers Qatar into their crucial qualifying stage with a defence rocked by injury since star stopper Abdullah Kone broke his leg in the Gulf Cup back in January.

With several other stars out of shape, the Frenchman will be relying on fresh blood to claw back ground following heavy defeats to Australia and Japan last year.

"We'll be without many of our regular players due to injuries. It's a problem we have to live with," Metsu told Doha Stadium Plus magazine.

"We need to look for alternatives, but unfortunately there isn't a strong pool to select from.

"You don't get to see so many players in the (domestic) league.

"Professionals outnumber local boys. The question is whether you've players or not?

"Sadly, we don't have that many."

Al Jazeera and agencies
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