Iran look to fill Mehdi Taremi void in WCQ clash against Lebanon

Miguel Riopa/AFP via Getty Images

The third round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup have already delivered plenty of drama, and more is on the cards as the campaign crosses its halfway mark in the coming week.

One team has led the way thus far with a perfect record of four wins while another two are also yet to taste defeat, so what can we look forward to over the next couple of match days?

- Saudi Arabia poised to make waves and not just because of Newcastle's new owners
- Vietnam risk wasting Nguyen Quang Hai's generational talent

We take a closer look at the major talking points ahead of the final international break of 2021.

Can Iran cope with absence of star man Mehdi Taremi?

Iran arguably boast the continent's most-talented group of players at the moment, but it appears things are far from smooth sailing after coach Dragan Skocic's omission of star man Mehdi Taremi from his latest squad.

To voluntarily do without a striker that has bagged 53 goals since moving to Portugal at the start of the 2019-20 season is a bold move, with reports suggesting that is growing friction between the Porto man and Skocic.

Team Melli should have no problem filling his void in the immediate future starting with Thursday's clash with Lebanon.

Still, for a team expected to qualify for next year's World Cup and aiming to improve on some impressive displays at the last edition in Russia, it seems unthinkable that they might do that without a player of Taremi's calibre.

Saudi Arabia can prove they mean business by beating Australia

While Japan and Australia were identified as the likely frontrunners when the qualifying groups were initially drawn, Saudi Arabia were also expected to pose a threat but what they have gone on to achieve in the opening four games has exceeded expectations.

Granted, the Japanese have not been firing on all cylinders but claiming a victory over Hajime Moriyasu's charges last month was not only a massive boost to their prospects but to their confidence as well.

The Green Falcons do not have long to wait to prove their mettle once more with Australia lying in wait on Thursday at Western Sydney Stadium, and the Socceroos will have the added motivation of playing on home soil for the first time in over two years.

Saudi Arabia have excelled under Herve Renard, who has seemed to find the right balance of youth and experience in his team, and they will get another chance to prove they are not merely pretenders but genuine contenders in Group B against the Australians.

Japan must deliver statement of intent against Vietnam

Japan have been plagued by inconsistency in the third round of Asian qualifiers. Crucially, last month's 2-1 win over Australia has gone some way in getting them back on track.

For a side boasting as much talent as the Samurai Blue, failing to qualify for a 7th consecutive World Cup will be seen as a massive failure.

It is unlikely they will fall to another shock defeat on Thursday against Vietnam, who have yet to pick up a point in their maiden appearance at Asia's final qualifying stage for the World Cup, but perhaps a victory alone would not be enough to ease the growing pressure on Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu.

As the Japanese look to fully awaken from their recent slumber, it might be imperative for them to issue a real statement of intent against the lowest-ranked side in the competition.