Asian Cup qualification reaches a crucial stage tonight, with the majority of the competition's 19 teams facing progress or elimination. With matters in Japan and Bahrain-dominated Group A, Uzbekistan and UAE-led C, and Syria and China-dictated Group D all but decided, Australia and Kuwait face off in a top-of-the-table clash in Group B. Looking to reverse a 1-0 loss to Kuwait in Canberra earlier this year, Australia manager Pim Verbeek is predicting a strong Socceroos performance despite missing English Premier League trio Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer and Lucas Neill.
"We're all winners, we're all fighters," said Verbeek from Australia's Dubai training camp. "We're playing for our country and you won't see any of us dropping off, giving up or letting things go easily. It's just inside of us." A draw would leave both teams on eight points with a single round of games remaining. If the game does finish in a stalemate and third-place Oman win away in Indonesia, it could set up a mouth-watering, make-or-break clash between the two Gulf sides on March 3 for a place in next year's finals.
Meanwhile, Group E's top two clash as second-place Singapore, on six points, welcome group leaders Iran, who are a point ahead. In the group's other match, former England captain Bryan Robson's Thailand, who lie third on five points, welcome Jordan knowing victory will leave them in a strong position to qualify ahead of the final round of ties. "We have been working very hard in all areas," said Robson. "I think one goal will be enough for victory and the team are in a good shape. There is strong competition for every position."
Elsewhere, Japan face Yemen in a match which appeared to be in doubt following al Qa'eda's claims of responsibility for the attempted bombing of a US-bound airliner on Christmas Day. In need of just a single point to progress, however, Japan have opted to proceed ahead with the match in Sana'a. firstname.lastname@example.org Kuwait v Australia, 6.30pm, Aljazeera Sport 1