Doha, Qatar, Nov 14: After a win that moved Iraq within a point of advancing to the last stage of Asian qualifying and all but ended China's hopes of reaching Brazil 2014, coach Zico is reminding his players that the job is not quite done.
The 2007 Asian champions travel to Group A leader Jordan—the only team to maintain a perfect record of four wins in this round—on Tuesday needing only a point from its last two matches to progress to the fourth qualifying stage. Jordan, Japan and Uzbekistan have already secured three of the 10 spots in the next stage, while five teams are already out of contention.
“The important thing is that we go there and try to win and we can do that,” Zico told The Associated Press. “We are in good form and the players are confident. Now it is time to finish the job.”
Zico, one of Brazil's most celebrated players and a long-time coach in Asia, said Iraq's loss to Jordan earlier in the third round was due to the condition of the pitch.
“We expect that it will be better in Jordan. We are looking forward to the game and the atmosphere in the team is very good after beating China,” he said of the late 1-0 win over the Chinese last Friday at Doha. “That was a very big win for us. It was a hard game but we came through.”
It left China on the brink of elimination. Singapore, United Arab Emirates, North Korea, Tajikistan and Indonesia are already out of contention with two matches remaining.
After three successive losses, China is six points behind Iraq and nine behind group leader Jordan. The team has been eliminated at the penultimate stage of qualifying for the past two World Cups.
Only a win in Singapore on Tuesday will keep China's slim chances alive, but the team's Spanish coach Jose Antonio Camacho admitted that dreams of 2014 are virtually over and the country's media and football fans are ready for the same fate to be confirmed.
“Our problem has been that we are creating chances in the penalty area but we are not scoring enough goals,” Camacho said. “There is a lot of work to do and areas in which we need to improve.”
In Group D, there is a fierce three-way struggle for second spot. Leader Australia lost its perfect record in a shocking 1-0 defeat at Oman on Saturday but is still four points clear of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis moved into second spot after a 3-0 win over Thailand, a first victory with the team for former Netherlands and Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard. If Australia wins in Bangkok against fourth-placed Thailand, Saudi Arabia will progress to the next stage if it defeats Oman in Riyadh.
It may not be easy. Oman started the group in poor form but under coach Paul Le Guen produced a solid and well-organized defensive performance to frustrate Australia, the second-ranked team in Asia.
“Thanks to this victory the team will be a little more confident in the next two matches against Saudi Arabia and Thailand,” Le Guen said. “Now we are back in contention. Now we have to concentrate on the remaining two games.”
It would be a significant surprise to see Lebanon in the final round. The team, ranked No. 146 in the world, lost its opening game in South Korea 6-0 but bounced back with wins over United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to move into second spot.
With UAE out of the running and South Korea leading the group on 10 points on the verge of advancing, Lebanon sits on seven points and is two clear of Kuwait ahead of its home match against South Korea in Beirut. Fortunately for Lebanon, the South Koreans will be without the suspended Arsenal striker Park Chu-young, the form attacking player in Asia with eight goals in his last five games for his country.
In Group E, Iran and Qatar are both on eight points and aiming to book places in the next stage. Iran travels to last-place Indonesia while Qatar hosts Bahrain. After allowing Iran to score a last-minute equalizer at Manama on Friday, Bahrain needs to win to keep alive its hopes of qualifying for a first World Cup.
All is settled in Group C with Japan and Uzbekistan safely through, leaving Japan's first trip to North Korea since 1989 significant more in terms of politics than World Cup qualification.