Australia, Japan grouped in World Cup qualifying

Australia will continue its fierce rivalry with Japan after the

regional powers were drawn together in the final round of Asian

qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Australia and Japan were drawn in Group B during a ceremony

Friday at the Asian Football Confederation’s headquarters in

Malaysia, along with fellow World Cup veteran Iraq, Jordan and

Oman.

Group A comprises 2002 World Cup semifinalist South Korea, Iran,

Lebanon, Uzbekistan and 2022 host Qatar.

The top two teams from each group will advance to the World Cup

finals, while the two third-placed teams playoff for a further spot

in an intercontinental contest with a fifth-place team from South

America.

The home-and-away matches are scheduled from June 3, 2012 to

June 18, 2013.

”It’s going to be a tough group, particularly the road games,”

Australia coach Holger Osieck said. ”We know what is at stake now

and we know what we have to deliver.

”We have to be right there from the start, from minute

one.”

Australia’s first match is June 8 in Oman, the only nation to

beat them in the previous qualifying group (1-0), which they topped

with five wins from six matches, the last against Saudi Arabia in

Melbourne earlier this month.

Osieck said he was confident the Socceroos would emerge from

their eight-match, year-long final phase with one of the two top

spots, guaranteeing a berth in their third consecutive World

Cup.

Japan technical director Hiromi Hara was equally confident,

saying his team would ”100 percent qualify.”

”We know it’s not easy because this is the final round, but we

are prepared and we have talent,” he said.

Japan has made four World Cup appearances since 1998, reaching

the second round in 2002 and 2010.

Iraq coach Zico conceded that Japan and Australia would be

favorites to top their group, but stressed that his team cannot be

ruled out.

”The upcoming matches will be tough as there are many strong

teams,” he said. ”We will be working hard. I will be using all my

experience and skills to help coach the team to hopefully make it

to the World Cup in Brazil.”

Iraq has only made one World Cup appearance in 1986.

In Group A, South Korea’s team administrative manager Chun

Hanjin said he believes his team can top the group despite the

tough battles ahead.

”Either Group A or B doesn’t matter to us, both are equally

strong and will give us a hard time,” he said. ”Even though we

don’t have to face Japan, we still have four other strong teams to

contend with, and so we have to prepare well for it.”

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz predicted the matches would be ”very

competitive.”

”If we are well-prepared, I am very confident Iran will have a

chance to qualify,” he said. ”We have a good team, good

players.”

Associated Press writer Sean Yoong contributed to this

report.