|By PAUL GOUGH
Australia are risky favourites for what is expected to be the key match of their East Asian Cup qualifying campaign against North Korea in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Both teams are shorter at sportsbet.com.au where Australia are paying $2.29 and North Korea $2.82.
It is the second but by far the most difficult of the four games in seven days for Holger Osieck's largely A-League based squad, as they bid to qualify for the tournament proper next July in South Korea.
It is the first time Australia have attempted to take part in the East Asian Cup, a tournament that only began in 2003 and in which Japan, South Korea and China qualify automatically.
The fourth spot will be decided this week in a five-nation qualifying tournament featuring Australia, Hong Kong, North Korea, Guam and Chinese Taipei.
The Socceroos are easily ranked the highest in FIFA's official rankings of the five at No.33, with the clash against North Korea - ranked a respectable 81 - likely to decide the winner of the qualifying tournament.
But while North Korea have already thrashed Chinese Taipei 6-1 and Guam 5-0 in their opening two matches, the Socceroos laboured to a 1-0 win over Hong Kong on Monday.
|North Korea and Australia to draw at $3.05 at Betfair
||North Korea and Australia to draw 0-0 at $7.20 at Betfair|
And while the Socceroos should improve in their second outing now that they have had time to adjust to the local conditions, they will need to improve significantly against North Korea.
Even a draw could give North Korea a chance of topping the qualifying tournament on goal difference and would certainly put pressure on the Socceroos to score big wins in their remaining matches against minnows Guam on Friday and Chinese Taipei on Sunday.
As a result, the draw definitely looks good value in this one and has attracted just over 10 percent of the early money wagered on the game with Betfair, with barely any support for North Korea and near 90 percent support for the Socceroos.
However given the way Australia struggled to break down Hong Kong, their inexperienced line-up could find it tough to get through a well-organised North Korean defence.
A 0-0 draw in particular looking good value in correct-score betting with Betfair at $7.20, while a 1-1 draw is paying $6.
*Note prices subject to change