Aussies vie last three Asian Cup spots

March 1, 2010
By by Robert Smith

Australia are among six sides vying for the last three spots at next year's Asian Cup in a tense final round of qualification games on Wednesday.

The World Cup qualifiers need only a point in Group B against Indonesia in Brisbane to secure passage to the Doha finals in January.

Kuwait, who lead Group B on goal difference from Australia, will also go through if they secure at least a draw against Oman in Muscat.

The Omanis, who trail Kuwait and Australia by a point, must repeat their win over Kuwait in January last year if they are to squeeze through to the Qatar showpiece.

There is another qualification spot left open in Group E, with Thailand (6pts), Singapore (6) and Jordan (5) all in contention to finish runner-up to the already qualified Iran.

Jordan, ranked 106 in the FIFA rankings, appear to have the edge with home advantage over the 120th-ranked Singapore in Amman, while Thailand are away to Iran.

Australia, Asia's top-ranked team, have only lost once to Indonesia in 14 encounters and have won all their four previous meetings at home.

Dutch coach Pim Verbeek has selected only three foreign-based players in his squad with leading Socceroos Tim Cahill, Lucas Neill, Harry Kewell and Mark Schwarzer all staying behind in Europe.

Giant Japanese-based striker Josh Kennedy will be one of Australia's key men and is hoping to extend his scoring record of six goals from 16 internationals.

"I'm not a new face in the team any more so it's a good feeling to have more responsibility and being a bigger part of the team," Kennedy said.

"The game is extremely important and we definitely want to win and not to leave it up to the result of the other game."

Kuwait played two friendly matches against Syria (1-1) and Bahrain (4-1), while Oman's French coach Claude Le Roy said he was unable to arrange some friendlies because of the commitments of his overseas-based players.

The Kuwait FA has arranged for flights to carry fans to support the team in Muscat.

Iran, who qualified for Doha 2011 after beating Singapore 3-1 in January, have recalled Ali Karimi for their final match against Thailand.

Karimi, formerly of Bayern Munich, has not played for the national team since June 2009, when Iran failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. He will be joined by Spanish-based stars Javad Nekounam and Masoud Shojaei.

Thailand, who have not beaten Iran in 11 meetings, face a daunting task at the intimidating Azadi Stadium in Tehran.

"We are not afraid of Iran. We want to prove that we can play against Asia's big teams," Thai coach and former England captain Bryan Robson said.

"We will play for a win and a finals berth. We cannot rely on the result of the other match."

In Wednesday's other matches, Japan and Bahrain, who have both qualified in Group A, meet in Nagoya, and Hong Kong host Yemen, while in Group C already qualified Uzbekistan and United Arab Emirates play in Tashkent.

Syria, who have already made it out of Group D, finish their qualifying against Lebanon in Damascus.