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Football: Big guns continue quest for Asian Cup Australia 2015

Iran – who will compete at next year’s FIFA World Cup – continue their AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign by hosting Thailand at the Azadi Stadium on Tuesday. Photo: AFP.

Iran – who will compete at next year’s FIFA World Cup – continue their AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign by hosting Thailand at the Azadi Stadium on Tuesday. Photo: AFP.

October 14, 2013: Former AFC Asian Cup winners Iraq and Saudi Arabia face off in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Tuesday evening as the two former continental champions seek to further improve their chances of qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015.


The qualifiers feature 20 teams competing in five four-team groups, each side playing six matches, so the third round of games on Tuesday will mark the halfway stage of the campaign.


Iraq and Saudi Arabia meet in Group C with the Saudis, three-time winners of the Asian title in 1984, 1988 and 1996, leading the standings with six points from their opening two games, which see them sit three points clear of China and 2007 champions Iraq.


Saudi Arabia have never failed to qualify for the Asian Cup since first playing in the competition in 1984 and have appeared in the final a record six times.


With only the top two teams in each group guaranteed to progress to the finals in January 2015, the focus is on Saudi Arabia coach Juan Roman Lopez Caro, who took over following Frank Rijkaard’s disappointing tenure, to maintain his side’s qualifying form.


China take on Indonesia in Jakarta knowing they need to win to keep the pressure on both the Saudis and Iraq as caretaker boss Fu Bo seeks to build on the country’s encouraging performance at the East Asian Cup during the summer.


Qatar, hosts of the 2011 Asian Cup when they reached the last eight, moved into joint-top spot with Bahrain in Group D on Sunday evening in Doha as Fahad Thani’s side notched up a 6-0 win over Yemen in a match held two days earlier than the rest of the qualifiers.


Former AFC Player of the Year Khalfan Ibrahim scored a hat-trick in a comfortable win over a Yemen side reduced to 10 men for the entire second half.


“We deserved to win and, despite the big victory, we didn’t play as well as the result suggests,” Thani said. “We tried our best to win and we worked very well, especially in the last third of the pitch.


“Our chances are still open as Bahrain still have a match against Malaysia. We shouldn’t be fooled by this result and we must work hard as the road is still long.”


Bahrain travel to Kuala Lumpur to face Malaysia on Tuesday evening off the back of a friendly loss to Thailand in Bangkok on Thursday and are looking to secure a third straight win in qualifying after victories over Qatar and Yemen.


In Group A, Jordan host Paul Le Guen’s Oman and will be aiming to maintain the run of form that has seen them progress to the playoffs of the FIFA World Cup finals.


Oman lead the group by two points from Jordan, with Syria and Singapore – who meet at Singapore’s Jalan Besar Stadium – trailing behind in the quest for the two qualifying berths.


Group B pacesetters Iran and Kuwait take on Thailand and Lebanon respectively.


In Group E, Hong Kong will look to keep their impressive start to the campaign alive against the United Arab Emirates, while Uzbekistan and Vietnam face off in Tashkent. Hong Kong are currently second, two points behind the UAE, after drawing with Uzbekistan in Tashkent and beating Vietnam.


Two teams from each of the five groups plus the third-placed nation with the best record will join hosts Australia, champions Japan, automatic qualifiers Korea Republic and 2012 AFC Challenge Cup winners DPR Korea in the 16th edition of the AFC Asian Cup, which will be held in Australia from January 9-31, 2015.


The winners of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup will also earn a berth.


AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015 qualifiers – Match Day 3: October 15, 2013


Group A – Singapore v Syria, Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore (19:30)

Group A – Jordan v Oman, King Abdullah International Stadium, Amman (18:00)


Group B – Lebanon v Kuwait, Sports City Stadium, Beirut (17:30)

Group B – Iran v Thailand, Azadi Stadium, Tehran (19:00)


Group C – Indonesia v China, Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Jakarta (19:00)

Group C – Iraq v Saudi Arabia, Amman International Stadium, Amman, Jordan (19:30)


Group D – Qatar 6-0 Yemen, Al Gharafa Stadium, Doha (October 13, 2013)

Group D – Malaysia v Bahrain, Shah Alam Stadium, Shah Alam (20:45)


Group E – Hong Kong v UAE, Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong (20:00)

Group E – Uzbekistan v Vietnam, Pakhtakor Stadium, Tashkent (18:00)


Note: All times are local kick-off times


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