Sink or swim for Japan
After defeats against Oman and Saudi Arabia, Japan are in serious danger of missing out on their first World Cup since 1994. Their fixture against Australia on Tuesday is arguably their biggest game in years, sitting six points behind Australia already, and defeat would end up with the Blue Samurai needing to rely on other nations to progress to Qatar.
Hajime Moriyasu is feeling the heat to deliver, but rightly so with the squad he has at his disposal and many fans are frustrated of his one dimensional, old school tactics which aren’t getting the best out of his current crop.
Another negative for Japan heading into this encounter is their opponents current form. Australia couldn’t be heading into this fixture in better form, winning their last eleven matches, a new record for the Socceroos, attaining eight clean sheets along the way.
The match is being played in Saitama, Japan, but with no fans allowed into the stadium that crucial advantage is almost non existent, as Oman proved on matchday one.
However, Australia haven’t won against Japan in over a decade and they have never won a match on Japanese soil in their entire history. Tuesday represents arguably their best opportunity, but despite their loss to Saudi Arabia, Japan were arguably the better side for long spells and in between their two defeats they managed to defeat China 1-0, so it’s not all doom and gloom just yet.
On paper, the stats suggest Australia are the more likely to come out on top. However, Japan had won six straight matches before their defeat to Oman, which included a 3-0 defeat over South Korea, 10-0 over Myanmar and 14-0 against Mongolia. There’s goals within this squad with Vissel Kobe’s Yuya Osaka likely to lead the line and with Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino in behind.
It’s very rare you see Japan priced at 2.01/1 to win an Asian World Cup qualifier and if ever there was a chance to turn around their fortune, this could be it.
Home side to punish Son’s Korea
Although I will be advising you to back Iran in their encounter against South Korea, it’s a shame that there was an announcement at the weekend that no fans will be allowed to attend. When their stadium is packed and with Iran ranked as the no.1 team in Asia, it is a daunting place to go and play football.
If fans were allowed to attend, the current price of 6/5 represents plenty of value. Without, it’s slightly underwhelming but one I would still firmly recommend.
Iran are three from three in qualification and they have kept three clean sheets in the process against Syria, Iraq and UAE.
South Korea also remain unbeaten but their performances have been very unconvincing. A poor 0-0 draw at home to Iraq, followed by a 1-0 home win against Lebanon before a last gasp winner against Syria hasn’t set the world alight. In fact, most South Korean’s aren’t happy at all and recognise against higher quality opposition these kind of performances will be punished.
Iran are unbelievably strong on home soil. They have won their last seven home matches, conceding just once in the process. Zenit’s Sardar Azmoun and Porto’s Mehdi Taremi make one of, if not the best partnerships in Asia and with Alireza Jahanbakhsh in behind, they will have too much for South Korea to handle.
Many will look at this fixture and believe Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son will be the standout player and capable of delivering and he might, but Iran’s strength across the park heavily outweighs South Korea’s squad and their luck will run out on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia firmly en route to Qatar
After coming back to defeat Vietnam 3-1 before snatching a 1-0 victory in Oman, Saudi Arabia’s real test came on Thursday when they faced Japan at home. Ranked no.2 in Asia, Japan are undoubtedly a level above most in the continent and although they haven’t had in all their own way as usual in qualifying, any kind of result against the Blue Samurai must be taken seriously.
Saudi Arabia did just that. A 1-0 victory despite a number of first team players missing due to injury has firmly put them in the driving seat to qualify for Qatar’s winter World Cup.
Their home advantage has been a crucial element to their recent success and despite many countries still playing behind closed doors, the King Abdullah Sports City was at capacity and rocking against both Vietnam and Japan.
It’s also worth noting Saudi Arabia qualified for the last World Cup in Russia and know how to get the job done. They are on the verge of achieving this once more and clearly fear no one.
Up step China as their next opponents, who had Wu Lei to thank after a 95th minute saw them scrap past Vietnam – a much needed result after a 1-0 defeat to Japan and a 3-0 humiliation at the hands of Australia.
When China launched it’s own Super League, expectations were high that the nation would improve considerably but with many of its domestic clubs folding in the last couple of seasons, football hasn’t improved as expected across the nation.
China have instead granted citizenships to Guangzhou’s Cardoso Elkeson and Alan, both born in Brazil, as well as Guangzhou’s Tyias Browning, born in England, in order to improve the national team.
Yet they can’t do this for their entire squad, which unfortunately leaves them behind in terms of quality and Saudi Arabia will be able to swoop and claim another vital three points.
Saudi Arabia are continuing to shorten in the market having opened at 1.501/2 but you can back the home win and over 1.5 match goals at 1.804/5 which is great value considering China’s leaky defence.