Australia and Japan, two of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) powerhouses, can book their places in the finals of Asian Football Cup 2011 when 18 Asian nations battle it out on Wednesday in the penultimate round of the tournament’s five qualifying groups.
Hosts Qatar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Korea Republic, India, Uzbekistan and Syria have already qualified for the 16-nation competition but at least another four nations can join them in Doha next January.
Three-times AFC Asian Cup winner Japan who play Yemen in Sana’a had considered not playing in the Gulf country because of the security situation, but Kyodo News Agency reported at the weekend that the AFC had carried out checks and contacted the Japan Football Association to give them the all-clear to make the trip as scheduled.
Japan only need a point to qualify, but have included 13 new Data HK faces with coach Takeshi Okada saying that his focus is on this year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Underdogs Yemen go into the match after a confidence-denting 1-0 defeat to Tajikistan on Saturday in Sana’a.
Bahrain, who share top spot with the Japanese in Group A, play Hong Kong at home and a win would also them through to the finals.
Australia, the AFC’s top-ranked nation, play in Kuwait on the same day, but, like Japan, will be fielding an under-strength side without most of their European-based players. Regular midfielder Jason Culina has also pulled out after injuring his …