Stern tests for Asian hopefuls
Progression beckons as Asia’s preliminary qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ reaches its decisive second leg stage on Sunday. With the aggregate victors advancing to meet the continent’s higher-ranked sides, the 16 hopefuls on show will spare nothing to keep their Brazil 2014 dreams alive.
Taking heart from emphatic opening victories at home, both Vietnam and Bangladesh will be hoping to consolidate their impressive advantages against Macau and Pakistan respectively. However, the other six match-ups remain too close to call.
The Philippines entertain Sri Lanka needing a goalless draw to progress on the back of a 1-1 stalemate in the first leg, while Chinese Taipei and Timor-Leste – both beaten 2-1 – need only a solitary goal triumph to advance at the expense of Malaysia and Nepal respectively. Join FIFA.com as we preview the all-important meetings across Asia.
Having endured the odd nervy moment in their 2-1 win in the first leg, Malaysia arrive in Taipei knowing that they can afford no slip-ups if they are to advance. However, despite conceding a late goal on home soil, the Malayan Tigers only need to avoid defeat. And they also enter the re-match boasting a positive historic record, having emerged 2-0 aggregate winners when the two sides met in qualifying for France 1998.
The hosts, for their part, will look to capitalise on home support to upstage the opponents. A 3-0 home win over Macau paved their way to the second round in their bid for Germany 2006, while in qualifying for South Africa 2010, the resilient islanders even limited Uzbekistan to a narrow 2-0 win in Taipei. Coach Lo Chih-Tsung is all too aware that they will need more than resolute defending to triumph on this occasion. "We countered them well in the first-leg and obtained an away goal," he said. "We will now try to win the return match with a different approach."
The other headline-grabbers
Still lamenting his side’s profligacy in last outing, Nepal coach Graham Roberts has more cause for concern in terms of finding goals in the return due to the suspension of ace striker Bharat Kawas. His opposite number, Carlos Viera, is in different frame of mind and has set his sights on the next round after restricting Roberts’ side to a 2-1 win. He said: "The opening result is good for us as we can prove what we are capable of in next match."
Also positive about his team’s prospects is Philippines manager Michael Weiss, who has declared that they will go on the offensive against Sri Lanka in Manila. He said: "We will go for the win and not just the draw." However, he will do well not to underestimate the South Asians, who boast three more FIFA World Cup qualifying appearances, including reaching the second stage during their bid for Germany 2006.
With a 1-0 home win over Myanmar having marked their first-ever triumph in FIFA World Cup qualifying, Mongolia enter the rematch seeking another landmark in the shape of a place in the next round. However, they must remain wary of the pace and agility of their host, with lone forward Soe Pai the biggest menace.
Elsewhere, Palestine will fully expect to progress at home following their 2-0 away win over Afghanistan. Cambodia, meanwhile, will hope to continue their fine goalscoring form against Laos after a 4-2 home win, although their opponents have recently forged a reputation for springing surprises, most recently with a 2-2 draw against Thailand in December’s ASEAN Football Federation Championship.
Player to watch
Having scored four times to steer Palestine to the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup, Murad Alyan continued his prolific form against Afghanistan, opening the scoring to set his side on the road to victory. The gifted No9's scoring form will be crucial if Palestine are to progress in the qualifiers.
11 - Among this batch of contenders, Malaysia are the relative veterans, with this campaign marking their eleventh bid to qualify for the FIFA World Cup.
What they said
"The 6-0 scoreline shows the gap that exists between Vietnam and Macau but I am pleased with our players' fighting spirit. I hope they can continue to work hard when we are back home," Macau coach Leung Sui Wing.
Asian Zone qualifying: first round, second leg fixtures
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