Aussies eye early passage to South Africa

SYDNEY - Australia were the last team to qualify for Germany four years ago but could be the first through to 2010 World Cup if they win their Asian qualifier against Uzbekistan on Wednesday. Last time, Australia got through in dramatic fashion after a penalty shootout with Uruguay. Now, having ditched Oceania to join the Asian confederation, things are happening a lot quicker and they are suddenly on the verge of becoming the first country to join hosts South Africa. To do that, Australia need to win the qualifier in Sydney and rely on Bahrain and Qatar drawing in the other group one match being played that night. Neither of those results are guaranteed, but with three matches still to go after this week, it only seems a matter of time before Australia qualify. The Australians have not conceded a single goal in their four Group A qualifying matches so far, including a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in Tashkent. "We're in a great position at the moment," Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer told reporters. "We just need to make sure that we capitalise on the position that we're in and not get too frustrated if things don't go our way immediately." INJURY WORRIES Schwarzer is one of more than a dozen European-based players who have returned home for the match, although several are still battling injuries. The most serious injuries are to midfielders Mark Bresciano and Tim Cahill, who have both been restricted to light training. "I had them all on the training pitch yesterday and they are all training but it's about 'are they ready to play 90 minutes'," Australia coach Pim Verbeek told a news conference on Tuesday. "I know what I'm going to do tomorrow but it all depends on the physical fitness of some of the players who were not in every day of training in the last week." Uzbekistan are also battling to field their best side after they revived their campaign with a 4-0 thumping of Qatar on the weekend. The win saw Uzbekistan join Qatar and Bahrain on four points, behind Japan on 11 and Australia on 10. Australia have a game in hand on their four group opponents. Uzbekistan will be without skipper Maksim Shatskikh for the match and there are also concerns about the fitness of Farhod Tadjiyev, who scored a hat-trick against Qatar, and midfielder Server Djeparov, last season's Asian player of the year. The team is also battling jet lag and fatigue after the long trip from Central Asia to Australia but said they could use that as an excuse. "I think these problems are not worth complaining about because Australia had also the same problems when they visited Tashkent," team manager Vladim Abramov said. "Problems always exist but the important thing is to find the solution to them."