Make or break for Australia on road to London 2012

JOHN DUERDEN Associated Press Published:

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Tashkent is about two-thirds of the distance from Sydney to London and if Sunday's Olympic qualifier in the Uzbek capital goes badly for Australia, it could be as close as the Olyroos get to the 2012 games.

With three games played in the Asian zone of qualification and three to go, Australia has yet to score and that must change if it is to maintain its record of qualifying for every Olympics since 1988. The only consolation is that the team has also yet to concede.

Should the Olyroos lose to Uzbekistan, it would be five points behind the Group B leader with just two games left to play, and only the three group winners are guaranteed a berth in London.

"Maybe it's time we stopped doing tactical work at training and concentrated a bit more on shooting. We still can't hit the back of the net," coach Aurelio Vidmar said last month.

Australia is leaving nothing to chance and is even taking it own chef to Uzbekistan. In 2008, the senior side lost Jason Culina and Jade North to food poisoning in the Central Asian nation.

"We know the history of going to Uzbekistan and we're trying to avoid players getting sick," Vidmar said. "He will get there a few days before us to make sure everything is prepared."

Iraq is second, one point ahead of Australia, and will meet bottom team United Arab Emirates.

The second-place finishers will play off in Vietnam from March 25 to 29 for the right to take on an African team in a winner-takes-all game with the prize of a place in London at stake.

Of the 12 contenders in Asia, only Japan in Group C has a maximum of nine points from the three games. The team can virtually qualify for a fifth successive tournament with a win over second-placed Syria. Due to the political unrest in the host nation, the match will take place in Jordan.

"National teams are expected to produce, regardless of what the situation is," said Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka. "You just have to accept it."

Japan drew a warm-up match against Qatar in Doha on Monday 0-0.

"We had plenty of decent goalscoring chances but couldn't put them away," said Sekizuka. "We have to start switching on the engine."

In the other game in the group, Bahrain in third must defeat bottom team Malaysia at home to stay in realistic contention.

South Korea saw its three-point lead in Group A reduced earlier this week by a FIFA ruling which penalized Qatar for fielding an ineligible player in its 1-1 draw against Oman in November. The world governing body gave Oman a 3-0 win, taking it onto six points, one behind the leader.

That puts the pressure on Korea, seeking a seventh successive appearance at the Olympics, to get a result in Riyadh over last-placed Saudi Arabia on Sunday. Elsewhere in the group, Oman travels to Qatar, now in third place with two points.

Led by 2002 World Cup captain Hong Myong-bo, the 2004 quarterfinalist is in good form after winning the King's Cup in Thailand last month against the national teams of Thailand and Norway plus a select eleven from Denmark.

"The confidence that the players gained through the King's Cup was the biggest achievement," said Hong. "We know that the game in Saudi Arabia is going to be a tough game but we are confident that we can get a good result."

All the top Asian teams struggle getting their top young players released from European clubs as games fall on non-FIFA matchdays . Japan has been without stars such as Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal's Ryo Miyaichi. Korea has been without Ki Sung-yong of Celtic and Dutch-based Tommy Oar has not been able to feature for Australia.

For the women, world champion Japan and North Korea claimed the AFC's two Olympic spots in September.