World Cup qualifying preview: Iran, Japan close on finals spot
By Football News
Iran and Japan can all but sew up their spots at the 2014 World Cup, with wins in AFC qualifying this week.
Group A leaders Iran will host third-placed Uzbekistan on Wednesday, and a win would take them to 10 points through five games - within one point of Carlos Queiroz's men officially sewing up their spot in Brazil.
Conversely, the Uzbeks will be out to at least avoid defeat to ensure they remain in the mix for a top-two spot, and automatic qualification to the finals when the two nations do battle at Azadi Stadium in Tehran.
Also in Group A, Qatar and Lebanon (both on four points) will go head to head in Doha, with both sides still well and truly in the race for a finals spot despite being the bottom two in the group.
Should Uzbekistan hold Iran, both the Lebanese and Qataris will be still alive heading into the final group game regardless of their result.
Japan need only a draw on their trip to Oman in Group B to book their spot at the showcase event, and they have so far conceded just one goal in four matches to convincingly top the group.
In the other Group B battle, cellar-dwellers Iraq welcome second-bottom Jordan in what could be a do-or-die clash for both sides.
Jordan are just one point behind the second-placed Australia, while Iraq have just two points from their first four matches and need to win to keep any slim chance of qualifying for the finals alive.
In UEFA qualifying, Northern Ireland host Azerbaijan (Group F) and Montenegro welcome San Marino (Group H).
The Montenegrins should continue their impressive campaign which sees them sit second behind England, as San Marino have failed to score in three and have shipped 13 goals in the process.
The Northern Irish desperately need to get the three points against Azerbaijan, and would be confident of doing so given the latter have lost their past two in qualifying, and have scored just once in their three matches.
A win would take Michael O'Neill's men within two points of a playoff spot, with group leaders Russia well clear of the pack on 12 points through four games.