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 Server Djeparov.
Qatar, 2022 World Cup hosts, could also challenge for a first finals appearance having held Iran to two draws in the previous round.
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 at the finals in Brazil.comments