Japan will face
Australia in a repeat of the 2011 Asian Cup final after the duo
were drawn together in a tricky World Cup qualifying fourth
round group on Friday.
Japan defeated Australia 1-0 after extra-time in the final
in Qatar last year to become Asian champions for a record fourth
time and the two sides have been the standout performers in the
region for a number of years.
The pair will be favourites to finish first and second in
Group B and reach the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil but they
will face a difficult challenge and three long away trips to
West Asian teams.
Also in Group B are Iraq, who beat Australia en route to
winning the 2007 Asian Cup, fast-improving Jordan, who came
within a minute of beating Japan at the Asian Cup last year and
Oman, who advanced to the fourth round at the expense of
regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia.
"It's fate or surprise to have the Asia Cup winners playing
with Australia again," Socceroos team manager Gary Moretti told
reporters at Asian Football Confederation house.
"We had Japan in the last [2010 World Cup fourth round]
qualifying group as well. So looking forward to it. It's going
to be no easy game as we know."
Moretti said he was not looking forward to the challenge of
facing Iraq, who recovered from an opening loss to Jordan to win
five straight and top their third round group under the guidance
of former Brazilian great Zico.
"They are a tough team," Moretti said of Iraq. "I think
underrated in some quarters. Definitely a tough, tough match."
GOALS AND DREAMS
South Korea were drawn in what looks a more favourable Group
A alongside Iran, Qatar, Uzbekistan and surprise package
Lebanon, who claimed a shock 2-1 win over the Koreans in the
third round which led to Cho Kwang-rae being sacked as coach.
"Even though we avoided Japan, we still have four strong
opponents to face so we have to prepare well," Chun Hanjin, head
of administration for the South Korean team, told reporters.
South Korea, now coached by Choi Kang-hee, will be
favourites to take one of the two World Cup places available
from Group A with Carlos Queiroz's Iran expected to join them as
the second seeds in the pool.
"We have a very good team, we have good players but the most
important thing now is the preparation plan to support our goals
and dreams in this road to World Cup 2014," former Portugal and
Real Madrid coach Queiroz told reporters.
However, Uzbekistan, semi-finalists at the 2011 Asian Cup,
should provide a stern test having qualified for the fourth
round top of a pool involving Japan and boasting a squad full of
technically sound players led by twice AFC player-of-the year
Qatar, 2022 World Cup hosts, could also challenge for a
first finals appearance having held Iran to two draws in the
The two third place sides from each group will face off in a
play-off, with the winner of that two-legged tie then playing the
fifth-placed team from South American qualifying.
The victory of
the two-match inter-confederation play-off will also gain a place
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