Kuala Lumpur: The 12 countries fighting it out for FIFA World Cup 2018 qualification return to action on Thursday when Groups A and B resume as the Road to Russia heats up.
The Islamic Republic of Iran and Korea Republic currently occupy the top two positions in Group A, but Uzbekistan remain hot on their heels in third place.
Syria lead the chasing pack but sit four points adrift of the Central Asians, while Qatar and China urgently require victories if they are to stand any chance of securing a top-three position.
Iran and Korea will travel to Qatar and China respectively knowing that wins would strengthen their positions at the top of the group, while fourth meets third in a crucial encounter that pits Syria against Uzbekistan in Malaysia.
Qatar v Islamic Republic of Iran
Venue: Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Doha
Kick-off: March 23, 19:00 UTC+3
Return Fixture: Islamic Republic of Iran 2-0 Qatar
China v Korea Republic
Venue: Changsha Helong Sports Center, Changsha
Kick-off: March 23, 19:35 UTC+8
Return Fixture: Korea Republic 3-2 China
Syria v Uzbekistan
Venue: Stadium Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Paroi
Kick-off: March 23, 20:00 UTC+8
Return Fixture: Uzbekistan 1-0 Syria
A congested Group B sees just one point separating the top four teams with Saudi Arabia and Japan in first and second place, just ahead of Australia and the United Arab Emirates.
Further back, Iraq and Thailand occupy the bottom two places in the standings and have a mountain to climb if they are to close the gap on the leading pack.
Saudi Arabia’s bid to reach a fifth FIFA World Cup resumes in Thailand, while Japan will look to keep pace with the group leaders ahead of a tricky-looking tie with the UAE. Australia, meanwhile, must turn draws into wins to stay in touch with Group B’s front runners.
Thailand v Saudi Arabia
Venue: Rajamangala Stadium, Bangkok
Kick-off: March 23, 19:00 UTC+7
Return Fixture: Saudi Arabia 1-0 Thailand
United Arab Emirates v Japan
Venue: Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
Kick-off: March 23, 19:30 UTC+4
Return Fixture: Japan 1-2 UAE
Iraq v Australia
Venue: PAS Stadium, Tehran
Kick-off: March 23, 16:30 UTC+3:30
Return Fixture: Australia 2-0 Iraq
Photos: Lagardère Sports & AFP