Although many countries are a long way from even starting their qualifying campaigns, in Asia the World Cup qualifiers started in September. Thursday will be the fifth round of matches for teams to press their credentials for a starting berth in Qatar. NATHAN JOYES looks at five of the matches and suggests some possible bets.
Myanmar v Tajikistan – 10:30
The first of this week’s Asian World Cup qualifiers kicks off in Yangon, where Myanmar welcome Tajikistan to the Thuwunna Stadium. After a poor defeat to Mongolia in the opening match, the home side have failed to pick up a single point and have yet to find the back of the net. However spirits in the away camp will be high after overcoming both Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan by a single goal to nil.
There’s no doubt Japan are running away with the group, but the floor is open for second spot, which will put one nation in with a chance of qualification through a play-off match. With everything very much still to play for, Tajikistan will be looking for all three points, especially as fellow group rivals Kyrgyzstan next face the near-impossible task of defeating group giants Japan.
Tajikistan haven’t been prolific in front of goal, but they know how to get the job done. They dug deep and scored late from a set piece in Mongolia, having to adapt to an unfamiliar 3G pitch and deal with a vibrant crowd.
Their head coach, Usmon Toshev, has expressed the significance of this fixture and his side will settle for no less than three points on the road in their hunt for qualification. This is arguably one of their biggest games in recent history, and an away victory looks a strong bet, albeit by a single goal.
Tajikistan WIN at 1.65
Under 2.5 goals at 1.952
Both Teams To Score: NO at 1.952
Turkmenistan v North Korea – 11:00
Due to television coverage being illegal in North Korea, it’s near impossible to judge their two performances against Lebanon and South Korea. However, all away games are live streamed and their 1-0 victory against Sri Lanka certainly flattered the home side. Pakir Ali’s side were well and truly camped in their half for the duration of the match and despite several chances spurned from North Korea’s front line, they seem to have a knack of getting the job done.
Turkmenistan also returned from Sri Lanka with three points, coming out of the contest as 2-0 winners. However, the game was far more open and with Sri Lanka firmly as the groups whipping boys, it came as no surprise to see their defence, which has conceded 14 goals in four matches, come undone.
Turkmenistan were put in their place by South Korea, suffering a 2-0 defeat, with Amangylyc Kocumow’s side failing to register a single shot on target during the 90 minutes.
As a result, there should be some early value with the away side. North Korea are a well drilled, organised unit. A key factor for North Korea is their resilient defence, where the vast majority play for North Korean side April 25, who recently reached the final of the AFC Cup. Having yet to concede a goal and with automatic qualification very much in sight, North Korea to win and shut out the home side is the key bet here.
North Korea WIN at 2.75
Both Teams To Score: NO at 1.87
Malaysia v Thailand – 12:45
High-flying Thailand make the short trip to Malaysia and are good enough to come away with three points. Thailand currently sit top of Group G, having defeated group favourites United Arab Emirates 2-1 last time out. This was no fluke result as Thailand dominated from the first whistle on home soil.
Malaysia have only won once in this campaign, albeit in style when overcoming Indonesia 3-2 in the 96th minute in a match where the bookmakers had clearly favoured Indonesia to come out on top. However, Indonesia have failed to live up to expectations and have lost all four of their group matches.
The reason I bring this to your attention is because despite Malaysia making hard work of their trip to Indonesia, Thailand did not. Akira Nishino’s side comfortably won 3-0 in Gelora, making yet another bold statement to the other sides within Group G.
If this game was in Thailand, they would be a much shorter price than they currently are. Thailand have already shown they are playing without fear and getting results, and a win against Malaysia would firmly secure their chances of a top two finish at the hands of either UAE or Vietnam.
Thailand WIN at 2.00
Over 2.5 goals at 2.00
Vietnam v United Arab Emirates 13:00
Not many would have predicted United Arab Emirates to be occupying third place after three games in Group G. The favourites to qualify out of the group have shown real signs of weakness on the road, which does not bode well for their trip to Vietnam.
Bert van Marwijk’s side have conceded three goals so far, all of which have come from high pressing from both Thailand and Malaysia, who like to utilise their wingers to feed balls into the box. UAE are a slow side, who seem inept with dealing with this kind of play. They heavily rely on the counter attack on their travels, and are fortunate to have Al Jazira’s lethal striker, Ali Ahmed Mabkhout, available at their disposal. Having scored six goals in the group stage, Vietnam will need to be cautious of the threat he possesses.
However, Vietnam have a similar style to Thailand – which is probably why they cancelled each other out with a 0-0 draw in Bangkok back in September. Their high press caused utter chaos for Malaysia in their 1-0 victory, with both Nguyen Cong Phuong and Nguyen Quang Hai toying with the Malaysian defence.
Vietnam haven’t lost at home since 2015 and with 40,000 spectators expected, a Vietnam win (draw no bet) at 1.95 looks a great price.
Draw No Bet: Vietnam at 1.95
Jordan v Australia 16:00
Australia could not have been handed a better draw and they’ve proven that, dismantling Kuwait, Nepal and Chinese Taipei with ease, scoring fifteen goals and conceding just once in the process. Their match away to Jordan, however, will be their toughest match in their campaign. A win would see Graham Arnold’s side go four points clear and he will already be able to starting planning for the next stage of qualification for Qatar.
In recent years, Australia have often made it difficult for themselves on the road, but Arnold’s side full of vastly experienced players are gelling well under his 4-3-3 system. Brighton’s Aaron Mooy and Hull’s Jackson Irvine have formed a solid relationship in the heart of the midfield, while there are numerous options in their forward line, including Melbourne City’s Jamie Maclaren and Suwon Bluewings Adam Taggart.
It’s not just the attacking players which are showing promise, as Fleetwood Town’s centre back, Harry Souttar, has already bagged three goals from corners in qualification to date and will be a huge threat once again in Jordan.
Australia aren’t the most glamorous price in the world, but a win will send out a strong message to the rest of Asia. There’s simply too much quality in Arnold’s side for them not to come away with three points in Amman.
Australia WIN at 1.70