China, Qatar face elimination as Iran look to Russia

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The slim World Cup qualification hopes of both China and Qatar could finally end this week while Iran could become the first Asian nation to book their place in next year’s finals in Russia.

Carlos Queiroz’s team take on Uzbekistan in Tehran on Monday evening knowing a win over the Central Asian nation will ensure the Iranians qualify for the World Cup for the second time in a row, the first time the country will have secured a place at back-to-back tournaments.

The Iranians lead Group A by four points from South Korea with the Uzbeks in third, a further point adrift of Iran with three games remaining.

The Chinese sit in fifth and take on fourth-placed Syria in the Malaysian city of Malacca on Tuesday with coach Marcello Lippi knowing his side must win to retain any possibility of qualification for the nation’s first World Cup since 2002.

“It is totally within our capabilities to defeat Syria,” said Lippi after seeing his side beat the Philippines 8-1 in a friendly in Guangzhou on Wednesday evening.

“If we lose to Syria both at home and away, then we deserve to be eliminated. If we don’t want to give up now, no matter what we have to take down Syria.”

The Syrians, who have defied the odds to remain in contention for a place in Russia and have eight points from seven games, won the previous match between the teams prior to Lippi’s arrival as coach in November.

China sit on five points and retain a mathematical possibility of taking second place in the group from South Korea, but Lippi and his team need Uli Stielke’s side to slip up in Doha when they take on a Qatar team who also need to win.

The Qataris, who will host the 2022 finals, have just four points and cannot finish in one of the top two spots that guarantee an automatic berth in Russia. They can, however, climb up to third, which secures a place in a series of playoffs.

In Group B, Japan can put daylight between themselves and second placed Saudi Arabia with victory over already eliminated Iraq in Tehran on Tuesday.

Japan currently sit level on 16 points with the Saudis and Australia, who defeated the Bert van Marwijk-coached Saudis 3-2 in Adelaide on Thursday evening.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates, under new coach Edgardo Bauza from Argentina, must win in Bangkok against Thailand to keep their hopes alive of a first World Cup appearance since 1990.

Editing by Sudipto Ganguly