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By ESPN Staff

Tough tests for Asia's World Cup pace-setters

BANGKOK, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Unlikely frontrunners Qatar and North Korea can extend their group leads in World Cup qualifying on Wednesday with victories in two local derbies.

Qatar search for their second successive win against Gulf rivals Bahrain while North Korea take on fierce political foes South Korea at a neutral venue after a nationalistic dispute prompted a location switch.

Asia's most successful team and the region's newest will get off the mark when South Korea and Australia kick off their fourth round campaigns.

The Socceroos travel to Uzbekistan, pounded 3-0 by Qatar on Saturday, while South Korea go to Shanghai after the North refused - for the second time in the competition - to allow the South's flag and national anthem to be used in Pyongyang.

North Korea coach Kim Jong-hun was happy with Saturday's surprise 2-1 win over United Arab Emirates but said his team would not get ahead of themselves in a match where pride could be worth more than points.

'We still have a long way to go but it's a good start,' Kim told reporters. 'We would have been happy with one point (against UAE) but to return with full points was really, really good.'

Bahrain suffered a 3-2 defeat at home to Japan on Saturday but Qatar coach Jorge Fossati believes they are still formidable.

'We respect all our opponents and Bahrain's defeat against Japan doesn't mean that we should underestimate them,' the Uruguayan said.

Australia, who are taking the Asian route to the finals for the first time after switching confederations from Oceania, are looking for at least a point in Tashkent.

Pim Verbeek's side are in good form having beat Netherlands 2-1 in a friendly on Saturday and have reportedly chartered their own jet to avoid a complicated journey to central Asia.

UAE face a tough encounter with Gulf powerhouse Saudi Arabia, who are chasing a place at their fifth-successive World Cup.

The UAE were the stronger team in Saturday's defeat by North Korea and their French coach Bruno Metsu is optimistic they will get over the setback.

'These things is not the end of all,' Metsu said.

'We still have seven matches and everything is possible. We are not out of the race yet.'

The top two teams in the two groups progress to South Africa 2010. The fifth-placed team will meet Oceania champions New Zealand in a playoff for one more spot in the 32-team finals.


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