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Football: Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain look to book AFC Asian Cup berths

Khamis Esmaeel (left) of the UAE and Uzbekistan captain Server Djeparov in an earlier Group E match from AFC Asian Cup qualifying. UAE play Hong Kong on Friday, while Uzbekistan play Vietnam. Photo: AFP.

Khamis Esmaeel (left) of the UAE and Uzbekistan captain Server Djeparov in an earlier Group E match from AFC Asian Cup qualifying. UAE play Hong Kong on Friday, while Uzbekistan play Vietnam. Photo: AFP.

November 14, 2013: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain could all book their places at the finals of the AFC Asian Cup on Friday evening when the Middle Eastern trio continue their quest for places at the 2015 tournament in Australia.

 

Three-time winners Saudi Arabia and 1996 finalists the UAE both have perfect records following the first three rounds of qualifying matches and wins over Iraq and Hong Kong respectively will see them book their places at Australia 2015.

 

Saudi Arabia beat 2007 winners Iraq 2-0 when the two teams met in Group C last month and another win would put the group leaders in an unassailable position at the summit, clear of China and Indonesia, who will also meet on Friday.

 

Mahdi Ali’s UAE team notched up a comfortable 4-0 win over Hong Kong when the sides faced off in the previous round of matches and the Gulf Cup champions will advance with another victory against Kim Pan-gon’s side in Group E, which also features Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

 

Uzbekistan are second in the group, level on points with Hong Kong after a slow start, but coach Mirdjalal Kasimov is hopeful his side can finally pick up speed in their quest for a place in Australia.

 

“We’ve had a long flight to Vietnam, but after one day, everything is okay. All of my players are in good physical condition,” Kasimov said. “Vietnam played well in the last game, but we also played well and deserved to win that game because we scored more goals than them.

 

“I believe that the Vietnam team will try their best again in the second game. They have the advantage of playing at home, but we’re the stronger team, so I think they will play on the counter-attack.

 

“I still think we will achieve one more victory to get three more points just because we are the better team. We will try our best to reach the next round.”

 

Bahrain could also seal their spot among the 16 qualifiers with victory over Malaysia after drawing with the Southeast Asian side when the teams last met in Kuala Lumpur in October. The Gulf side lead Group D by a point from Qatar, with Malaysia a further two points behind. Qatar meet Yemen in the group’s other game on Friday.

 

Iran, another three-time winner of the title with successes in 1968, 1972 and 1976, could also move a step closer to securing a place in the finals with victory over a struggling Thailand team in Bangkok. The Thais remain without a point from their opening three games while Iran sit on seven, two more than Kuwait who meet third-placed Lebanon on Friday.

 

Jordan’s involvement in their FIFA World Cup play-off with Uruguay means the country’s match with Oman in Group A has been postponed until next year. Singapore will travel to Tehran to meet Syria in a repeat of the clash Singapore won last month. Oman currently top Group A, two points ahead of Jordan, with Singapore in third.

 

Sixteen nations will play in the finals of the AFC Asian Cup in Australia, with holders Japan, hosts Australia, Korea Republic and DPR Korea having already qualified for the tournament, which will be held in five venues from January 9-31, 2015.

 

For more information, visit www.afcasiancup.com

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