Fairytale finish unlikely for World Cup no-hopers
BANGKOK, Oct 26 (Reuters) - After their fleeting appearance in the World Cup, Asian soccer's strugglers are all but certain to leave the qualifying stages with no hope of a fairytale on Sunday when the 19 places in the next round are decided.
Uzbekistan, China, Singapore and Asian champions Iraq have one foot firmly in the next round thanks to clean sheets and a deluge of first round, first-leg goals, as do Qatar, Syria and North Korea.
But ahead of the likes of Taiwan, Pakistan and Myanmar lies the near-impossible task of reversing humiliating first leg defeats of 9-0, 7-0 and 7-0 respectively.
Hapless Macau, whose players train together only once a week, have already been eliminated after a 13-2 aggregate thrashing by a depleted Thai team.
East Timor, whose stadium has been deemed unfit to play in, have kept hopes of a shock victory alive, trailing Hong Kong by a single goal -- which they accidentally scored themselves.
Ranked joint bottom at 200th in the FIFA rankings and without a victory in international soccer, a place in history awaits the Timorese if they can turn around their 3-2 first leg defeat in Hong Kong.
Also within reach of a second round place for the first time are Cambodia, who trail Turkmenistan 1-0, and 149th-ranked Kyrgyzstan, who have a surprise 2-0 lead going into their away match with Jordan, Asia's 12th best team.
India have an uphill task to qualify after their 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Lebanon, as do Asian Cup quarter-finallists Vietnam after they went down 1-0 to Gulf champions United Arab Emirates in the first leg.
Their Austrian coach Alfred Riedl, however, believes it is not all over yet and told local media he had a strong, determined team and was "confident of a good result".
Of the 19 teams who pass the first stage, the eight highest-ranked will automatically qualify for round three in February 2008, where seeded sides Japan, Iran, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and newcomers Australia join the competition.
If the minnows are to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, they must get through three knockout rounds and two group phases and must win most of their 20 matches.
Four teams will reach the finals in South Africa, with the fifth Asian team playing-off with the winners of Oceania qualifying.