SEOUL, South Korea — World Cup regulars Iran, Australia and Japan need to bounce back from some mediocre performances if they are to keep pace with Asian rival South Korea when qualifying for Brazil 2018 resumes Thursday.
Australia needs to recover from a 2-0 defeat in Jordan last month that put the Socceroos four points behind the men from Amman in Group B, albeit with a game in hand. A home match against Kyrgyzstan should provide a perfect opportunity to get back to winning ways and close the gap on Jordan.
Japan was held to surprising goalless draw with Singapore at home in June and arrive in the former British colony for its return Group E match with a strong squad including Keisuke Honda of AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund's Shinji Kagawa.
Singapore boss Bernd Stange has warned his players that the Samurai Blue will be keen to set the record straight.
"Japan want revenge for sure. They want to prove that it was an accident, "Stange said, while admitting he expects his players to do lots of defending. "We have a match plan and we are working on it. We do not play every year against Japan and we will try to bring the best out of us."
In-form South Korea has yet to concede a goal in its four wins from four games and will virtually clinch a spot in the final round by taking three points from its Group G match against Myanmar.
Iran, meanwhile, is three points behind Oman in Group D and faces Turkmenistan at home, while Thailand can move clear on top of Group F with a home victory over the bottom placed Taiwan.
The big game in Group H sees Uzbekistan host North Korea. The North Koreans are four points clear of the Central Asians but have played a game more. Whichever team wins will be in pole position to take the automatic place in the final round of qualification.
China's desperation to improve on the international level, meanwhile, is playing havoc with Guangzhou Evergrande coach Luiz Felipe Scolari's Asian Champions League aspirations.
The 2002 World Cup-winning coach arrived in Guangzhou in June to succeed Fabio Cannavaro and, on November 7, took the big-spending club to Dubai for a 0-0 draw against Al Ahli in the first leg of the 2015 Asian Champions League final.
The second leg takes place in Guangzhou on November 21. That would usually provide plenty of time to prepare, especially as the Chinese domestic season ended in October with a fifth successive domestic title for the star-studded Evergrande, but Scolari has a major headache.
China coach Alain Perrin has included no less than eight Guangzhou players in his 23-man squad ahead of two vital Group C qualifiers against Bhutan in Changsa on Thursday and in Hong Kong five days later.
"After we return to Guangzhou, I must first wait 12 or 13 days for the players to comeback from the national team as they must first play for the national team and then I will make adjustments then begin preparations for the second leg (of the Champions Cup final)," Scolari said after the first leg in Dubai.
Guangzhou will also be without star defender Kim Yong-gwon, who was called up to the South Korean national team.
In this, the second and penultimate round of World Cup qualification in Asia, only the winner of each of the eight groups can be certain of a place in the final round. They will be joined by the best four runners-up. These 12 nations will compete for the continent's four automatic spots at the 2018 World Cup.
China's chances of finishing first are looking slim. The Red Dragons are already eight points behind group leader Qatar, although it has four games remaining, one more than the 2022 World Cup host.
After hosting Bhutan in a game that even the unpredictable China is expected to win comfortably, Perrin takes his men to the former British colony of Hong Kong for a high-pressure, high profile game at a time when political relations between the mainland and its Special Administrative Region are uneasy.
The two teams drew 0-0 in China in September and tensions have risen after Hong Kong fans booed the Chinese national anthem at a number of recent games.