Wednesday, November 13

Iran on brink of booking Asian Cup spot

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SINGAPORE: Iran can book their place at the 2011 Asian Cup finals, ease the pressure on coach Afshin Ghotbi and give Bryan Robson’s Thailand a boost with a  win over Singapore tomorrow.Ghotbi was ridiculed by local media in November after the three-time Asian champions lost 1-0 to Jordan and a defeat in Singapore in tomorrow’s Group E match would further fuel the calls for his departure.

Iran top the group on seven points from four matches, one ahead of Singapore followed by Thailand (5) and Jordan (4) with the top two sides from each group qualifying for the finals in Qatar.

Ghotbi received further criticism last week when his Team Melli finished last in a four-team invitational tournament in Qatar, losing to the hosts and Mali but finishing with a win over North Korea in their final match on Saturday.

“I am happy we beat the tournament champions North Korea in our last match,” Ghotbi told www.mehrnews.com. “Although we did not get satisfying results in the Qatar tournament we         made good assessments                of our players’ capabi- lities.”

Robson’s Thailand face a must-win game in their penultimate match at home to Jordan tomorrow.  Thailand slumped to a surprise 1-0 home defeat by Singapore in December only four days after beating their Southeast Asian rivals 3-1 away, leaving qualification out of their hands.

Robson then followed that result by coaching the under-23 side to a surprise first round exit in the South East Asian Games last month.

“We slipped up, but the players know how important this game is and they’ve been working really hard,” the former England captain told Reuters.

“It is a must win game but the pressure’s not on us any more than the other three teams. They’ve had bad results when they really didn’t want to have bad results.”

With the games not falling on an official FIFA international match date, Asian heavyweights Australia and Japan have been robbed of most of their European-based players for their away matches.

Japan need just a point in Yemen tomorrow to clinch qualification from Group A and coach Takeshi Okada has given 13 players their first call-ups to the squad for the match.

Bahrain can also qualify from Group A if they beat Hong Kong and Yemen fail to beat Japan.

Australia face a much trickier task away to Group B leaders Kuwait, who stunned the Socceroos with a 1-0 win in Canberra last year.

In Group D, China can      join Syria in qualifying if they beat the West Asian   side in Hangzhou. —  Reuters