No letup for Qatar after World Cup reprieve
BANGKOK, Oct 13 (Reuters) - After escaping being expelled for fielding an ineligible player, Qatar are more buoyant than ever in World Cup qualifying, with a new coach and desire to keep their surprise Group One lead.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared Qatar of wrongdoing last month, giving them the green light to chase a spot at their first World Cup finals.
The Gulf side travel to Brisbane on Wednesday for a match against third-placed Australia, who hammered them 3-0 in Melbourne in February and could take top spot with another win.
New coach Bruno Metsu, who quit Group Two strugglers United Arab Emirates two weeks ago, however said his side would not relinquish their slender lead easily.
"I promise you that we will play differently this time around," said Metsu. "Even though we might be under pressure for large parts of the game, we will get our chances if we keep calm and keep working hard."
The Socceroos are boosted by the return of Everton's Tim Cahill after an eight-month absence, though Galatasary's Harry Kewell and Palermo's Mark Bresciano are injured and ruled out.
World Cup regulars Japan could also seize the initiative in Group One if they beat Uzbekistan, whose form has taken an inexplicable nose-dive after they dominated the last two qualifying rounds with a deluge of goals.
Japan's midfield will be bolstered by three European-based players in Shunsuke Nakamura of Celtic, Makoto Hasebe of Wolfsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt's Junichi Inamoto.
Uzbekistan's woes continued on Saturday when they lost 3-0 in a friendly to South Korea, who have a chance to leap from fourth to top in Group Two if they can overcome bottom side UAE.
The South Koreans, Asia's most successful team in the World Cup, are chasing a place at their seventh-successive finals and welcome back Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung, who missed the 1-1 draw with North Korea.
Iran also have a chance to snatch the group lead from North Korea when they face the unlikely frontrunners in Tehran.
Iran coach Ali Daei will have to cope without former Asian player of the year Ali Karimi, who quit the team on Friday over a festering dispute with Iranian soccer officials.
Daei was dismissive of the player's abrupt departure and insisted his side would still cope without his midfield prowess.
"A team is not based on one player. We have 11 players in the field and we won't have any problems," Daei told reporters.
The top two teams in each group will reach South Africa 2010. The two third-placed sides will then play over two legs for a chance to face Oceania champions New Zealand in a playoff for an additional berth in the 32-team finals.