Home fans hoping for an upset
Vietnam v Japan
Japan’s rocky start after losing to Oman and Saudi Arabia in their first three matches meant their clash against Australia was effectively a six pointer.
However, luck was on their side and despite playing well overall, an 85th minute own goal secured a 2-1 victory. Japan now need to build on that and secure their first back to back wins in this qualifying campaign but their opponents, Vietnam, presents an almost perfect opportunity for the Blue Samurai.
Vietnam have lost all four of their matches to date, conceding 10 goals in the process. They showed great spirit to almost snatch a point against China but aside from that performance, Vietnam have lacked the quality required at this level.
That being said, their opponents haven’t blown anyone away yet, and even when they have lost it has been by a single margin. A close encounter it may well be, but Japan aren’t quite invincible as they once were.
It’s also worth noting half of Japan’s squad missed Tuesday’s training session due to their charter flight having to stop in Russia for refueling. Not ideal preparation for them.
Japan are priced horrifically short at 1/9 and while I think they will win by one or two goals, there’s some value I can’t ignore.
Can Vietnam score? It wasn’t something I was entertaining until I saw it priced at 2/1, and I’m finding it hard to leave alone. Both their goals against Saudi Arabia and Oman came completely against the run of play but two swift counter attacking moves in the build up is what caught my eye.
They also don’t create many chances, but they’ve scored four goals from just eleven shots on target in four matches, which is why there I’m hoping the home fans have something to cheer about.
Vietnam to score at 2/1 is my outside bet within the column.
End to end game expected in UAE
China v Oman
Home advantage within Asian World Cup qualifiers have often proven to be very important over the years, which is why it is worth flagging that this match will be played a neutral venue behind closed doors. Due to the pandemic, China are playing their “home” matches in UAE or Qatar, with this one being hosted in Sharjah.
After a dramatic 3-2 win over Vietnam in the 95th minute, China almost rescued a point against league leaders Saudi Arabia, falling to a narrow 3-2 defeat of their own.
After a slow start to the group, failing to score against both Australia and Japan, they’ve mustered five goals in two matches and appear to be growing in confidence in front of goal. However, the same can’t be said for their leaky defence, conceding nine in four matches to date.
This offers Oman more than hope. It has been a mixed campaign for Oman so far, securing a shock win over Japan in Suita, as well as defeating the whipping boys Vietnam last time out. Sandwiched in between has been two defeats to Saudi Arabia and Australia, but with both of those squads far superior, Oman have proven themselves that they can go toe to toe against Asia’s best.
Three points would see Oman stay in a qualifying spot, whereas a win for China would give them an outside chance of reaching the next stage. It’s a huge game at a pivotal stage in the group and I’m expecting plenty of action.
Both teams to score at 17/20 is my best bet in the column.
Stalemate offers value between bottom two
Iraq v Syria
Both of these nations will be bitterly disappointed with how their qualifying campaigns have turned out so far. They’ll meet on Thursday evening in Qatar, a neutral venue behind closed doors.
Iraq’s inability to find the back of the net has cost them dearly, having drawn blanks against South Korea, Iran and Lebanon in their opening three matches. It took until the 74th minute for that to change last time out against UAE, where they had to rely on an own goal to kickstart their campaign.
Striker Ayman Hussein looked to have scored the winner for Dick Advocaat’s side in the 89th minute, but those celebrations were short lived when the hosts scored deep into added time to salvage a point.
Scoring hasn’t been an issue for the opponents, Syria, who have averaged a goal per match so far. It’s at the other end of the pitch which is their main issue, conceding in every match to date, including three last time out against Lebanon.
A lack of concentration against Lebanon from the back line resulted in backlash from their fans, who were also highly frustrated after losing to South Korea in the final minutes thanks for a Heung-Min Son winner just five days before.
I’d recommend under 2.5 goals if it wasn’t so short, largely due to Iraq’s inability to score or take advantage of the opportunities they have been creating. Syria were poor last time out against Lebanon, but have often kept their matches tight against much stronger opposition – more noticeably their 1-1 draw with UAE.
It’s worth noting that 10 of the last 11 meetings between these two nations have seen two goals or less and four of their last five matches have ended up all square.
With this in mind, I’m backing a draw in Doha priced at 2/1.