Reuters: Troubled Iran may have finally put their house in order off the field, but on it things are not looking good for the three-times World Cup qualifiers. By Martin Petty
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Troubled Iran may have finally put their house in order off the field, but on it things are not looking good for the three-times World Cup qualifiers.
Despite having untangled themselves from months of mess, including persistent political problems and a drawn-out coaching crisis, Iran are without a win since July and have not scored in six matches ahead of this week’s World Cup qualifiers.
They travel to Kuwait on Wednesday desperate for victory to make amends for a string of uninspiring performances, including a humiliating goalless draw at home to part-timers Syria in their opening Group 5 qualifier.
Now that all-time top goalscorer and former Asian player of the year Ali Daei is in charge, Iran’s players can no longer complain of a lack of leadership and their impatient fans will expect nothing less than three points.
However, according to Kuwait’s Croatian coach Radion Gacanin, that may not be so easy.
“Iran are the stronger team, they have a lot of European-based players, but it will be difficult for them,” said Gacanin, who like Daei coaches both club and country.
“In football, anyone can beat anyone. We are at home, we have to win and they have not played well lately, it’s been bad for them,” he told Reuters.
South Korea, aiming for a place at their seventh successive World Cup, take on North Korea and have drafted in three England-based players to fortify their lead at the top of Group 3.
Park Ji-sung of Manchester United, Fulham’s Seol Ki-hyeon and Lee Young-pyo of Tottenham Hotspur have all been called up for the highly charged match, which was moved to Shanghai after the North refused to allow the visitors to play their national anthem or raise their flag.
Confident of reaching their fourth successive finals, Japan will field only domestic league players for their match away to Group 2 leaders Bahrain, who were agonisingly close to a place in the 2006 finals after losing a playoff.
Eintracht Frankfurt’s Junichi Inamoto was the only overseas player included in the squad, although he has since been ruled out with a hamstring injury. Celtic’s Shunsuke Nakamura misses the game because of club commitments.
Australia, recent debutants in Asian qualifying, go to high-altitude Kunming to take on a Chinese team recently booed by their fans for their continued slide since last year’s lacklustre Asian Cup performance.
Australia’s lineup will be bolstered by the return of Liverpool’s Harry Kewell after he missed the opening 3-0 win over Qatar, but Blackburn’s Brett Emerton and Everton’s Tim Cahill are out with injuries and Newcastle’s Mark Viduka has been left out.
Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek said the conditions in Kunming, 1,890 metres above sea level, would have little impact on his players.
“We will not be concerned too much,” he told China’s Xinhua news agency. “We have prepared seriously enough.”
Asian Cup holders Iraq, no strangers to chaos and upheaval, travel to Qatar with yet another new coach after the surprise sacking of Norwegian Egil Olsen last month.
Trusted local trainer Adnan Hamad, who had previously quit because of safety fears, returns as boss for the fourth time and will be keen to lift Iraq off the bottom of the Group 1 table.
Former qualifiers Saudi Arabia are away to Uzbekistan, who are eyeing their first World Cup place.
The Saudis and the Uzbeks each have three points and sit atop Group 4 after wins over Singapore and Lebanon.
(Editing by Ossian Shine)