Melbourne (AFP) – The Tim Cahill factor threatens Japan’s hopes of re-energising their World Cup campaign in a crucial qualifier against Australia in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Talismanic Cahill is in line for a recall for the Socceroos against the Blue Samurai in the Asia qualifying Group B encounter after playing only a few minutes as substitute in Australia’s 2-2 draw with Saudi Arabia in Jeddah last week.
It is also an important night elsewhere in Asia with China desperately needing a win against Uzbekistan in Group A in Tashkent to keep their faint hopes alive and the so far point-less 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar at home to Syria.
The Saudis again have home advantage against Gulf rivals United Arab Emirates, while Tehran hosts an inter-group double-header with Iraq and Thailand seeking their first points in an afternoon game in the Iranian capital.
Iran and South Korea are protecting their unbeaten starts to the Asian campaign in the evening kick-off.
Japan hold a winning 8-7 record over reigning Asian Cup champions Australia, but they have had problems preventing the mercurial Cahill from scoring against them.
Cahill, 36, who has returned home to play in the A-League with Melbourne City after 18 years plying his trade overseas, has scored five of his 48 international goals against the Japanese.
His scoring record against them could sway coach Ange Postecoglou to start him after late substitute appearances in the last two Russia 2018 qualifiers.
“We’ll be ready against Japan and looking forward to it. I’m here ready if I start or don’t start and we all have to be,” Cahill said.
“I got five minutes (against Saudi) and I’ve got some amazing memories to score a lot of goals against these Asian teams.”
Australia and Saudi Arabia lead Group B with seven points. Japan and the UAE are one point behind in the race for the two automatic World Cup qualifying spots.
It is make-or-break time for China, who were stunned 1-0 at home by war-ravaged Syria earlier this week as they slipped to fifth in Group A.
Seventy-eighth ranked China have ambitions of hosting and even winning a World Cup, but have regularly foundered in their qualifying campaigns and face the Uzbeks, who have already beaten Syria and Qatar.
Qatar cannot afford another slip-up after suffering their third straight defeat to South Korea in Suwon and must beat the Syrians in Doha.
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk will be looking to press home the Saudis’ advantage over rivals UAE after this week’s draw with Australia, while Iran have yet to concede a goal so far as they face Uli Stielike’s South Korea, seeking their 10th World Cup appearance.
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