Monday, March 01, 2010

Odds favour Jordan

In two days' time, the line up for the Asian Cup finals in Qatar will be determined when the last three slots at the finals will have been filled. The outcome of two groups remains undecided - the second qualifying place in Group E and both slots in Group B.

Iran have already taken one of Group E's berths but that has not deterred head coach Afshin Ghotbi from selecting a strong squad, recalling Ali Karimi as well as England-based Andranik Teymourian and Spanish based duo Javad Nekounam and Masoud Shojaei for their meeting with Thailand. It's a strange decision and one that will likely have a serious impact on the group.

The Thais go to Tehran without Teerasil Dangda and Narongchai Vachiraba while it's highly unlikely that Bryan Robson's team will be relishing the conditions they will endure in Iran for the game. While it's not expected to be too cold, temperatures in the low teens are significantly more chilly than they're used to - and often exploit to their fullest advantage - in Bangkok.

Much the same goes for Singapore as they prepare to take on Jordan in the group's other crucial game. Both sides need to win to progress, so that should ensure an open and entertaining game in Amman.

The Singaporeans are aiming to play at the Asian Cup for the first time since playing in the 1984 tournament as hosts and qualification would be another significant milestone for a nation that has continually improved over the last eight to 10 years. Much of that has been related to the policy of naturalizing players who were born overseas.

Singapore won the last meeting between the two on home soil but this will be a significantly different encounter against a team now coached by former Asian Coach of the Year Adnan Hamed. Hamed was the man who guided Iraq to the semifinals of the Olympic Games in 2004 and he took over in Amman a little over a year ago. His predecessor, Nelo Vingada, was elbowed out of his position after the loss to Singapore in January 09.

Hamed oversaw Jordan's 1-0 win over Iran in Amman in their previous Asian Cup qualifier and it was that result which threw the outcome of the group wide open. There is every possibility he can pull off something similar against the Singaporeans and qualify the Jordanians for the Asian Cup for the first time since they reached the quarterfinals at the 2004 edition in China.

In Group B, a draw against Indonesia in Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium would be enough for Australia to go through - although its hard to see anything other than a win for the Socceroos - while a fascinating contest awaits between Oman and Kuwait.

Oman, the current Gulf Cup holders, are on a high at the moment and have the added advantage of playing at home, but Claude Le Roy's side cannot afford to be complacent. The Kuwaitis, who lead the group going into the last round of matches, only need a draw to book their place at the Asian Cup finals after missing out on the last edition of the competition in 2007.

The draw for the finals will be made in Doha on April 23.

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