Momentum will be key for China, Australia

BEIJING • China's fledgling revival under Marcello Lippi will be tested by Iran, Asia's top football team, in World Cup qualifying today, while Australia need to return to winning ways when they play the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

China shocked South Korea 1-0 last week for their first win in the final round of Asian qualifying, and Lippi says there is much more to come from Team Dragon.

Elsewhere, Japan host Thailand, South Korea play Syria and table-topping Saudi Arabia entertain Iraq as the road to Russia 2018 heads towards its conclusion.

Lippi, who coached Italy to World Cup victory in 2006, has been hailed as a hero for fashioning China's rare win over South Korea, which hauled them off the bottom of Group A with four games to go.

Iran lead Group A with 14 points from six games, while China are fifth with five points.

"We worked hard to get the three points we needed," said the 68-year-old Italian, according to Xinhua news agency. "But it is not enough to win a ticket to the World Cup. We need to continue this momentum."

Playing Carlos Queiroz's Iran away - in a match which will be refereed by Singaporean Muhammad Taqi Aljaafari - is a different proposition to last week's home game in Changsha, and Lippi said China cannot afford to sit back in the 78,116-capacity Azadi Stadium.

Meanwhile, Tim Cahill remains bullish about Australia's prospects despite a run of four straight draws which has put their automatic qualification in doubt.

The Saudis and Japan are level on points at the top of Group B, occupying the two automatic spots, with Australia three points behind in third and in line for in the play-offs.

The game in Sydney is shaping as a must-win for UAE, whose 2-0 defeat by Japan last week left them fourth in the group.

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IRAN V CHINA

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2017, with the headline 'Momentum will be key for China, Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe