Japan and Australia to Meet in Battle for Brazil 2014 Berths

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AFC Asian Cup champions Japan will meet Australia in the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals after the two nations were drawn to face one another at AFC House on Friday afternoon.

The Alberto Zaccheroni-coached Japanese defeated Australia in the final of the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar in January last year thanks to a goal in extra time from Tadanari Lee while the two nations previously met in qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

The pair will also play against 2007 AFC Asian Cup winners Iraq, who are helmed by former Japan coach Zico, fast-improving Jordan and 2009 Gulf Cup winners Oman in an intriguing Group B.

Group A, meanwhile, sees Korea Republic – under new coach Choi Kang-hee – take on Carlos Queiroz’s Iran alongside an Uzbekistan side who won their third round qualifying group ahead of the Japanese, 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts Qatar and newcomers Lebanon.

“Australia are a good team and they are a great rival of ours,” said Japan Football Association technical director Hiromi Hara of the task facing the Blue Samurai as they chase one of the two automatic berths available from Group B in Brazil.

“We have played against Australia away on two occasions before so it’s going to be essential for us to win the first away match against them.

“In the final round there are no easy teams so we will just focus on each match and try and win so we can qualify.”

Hara singled out the meeting with Zico, who led the Japanese to the AFC Asian Cup title in 2004 and to the finals of the FIFA World Cup in 2006, for special mention.

“All the Japanese supporters, staff and players know Zico and we’re playing against him, so that’s going to be an exciting match,” he said. “We’re excited about that.”

Hara’s sentiments were shared by the Brazilian legend, who took over from Wolfgang Sidka as Iraq coach last August and steered them into the final round via a group that featured Jordan, Singapore and China.

“I’m very excited about going to Japan,” said Zico, who previously also worked with J.League club Kashima Antlers. “I have a strong relationship with the Japanese people and the players in the team now, some of them I picked for the team for the first time.

“They’re a big team and it will be incredible. I played against Brazil when I was Japan coach at the FIFA World Cup in Germany and now I’m playing against Japan with Iraq – it’s incredible.”

Meanwhile, former Real Madrid coach Queiroz was in confident mood after seeing his Iran team drawn in Group A to face 2002 FIFA World Cup semi-finalists Korea Republic as well as Qatar, Uzbekistan, Oman and Lebanon.

“I think we have a good chance,” said the ex-Nagoya Grampus coach. “We have a good team, we have good players but the most important thing now is the preparation plan to support our goals and our dreams on this road to the World Cup 2014.

“This is what we need to concentrate on now and that’s what we need to focus on, to prepare the Iranian national team.”

Lebanon, meanwhile, will be making their first appearance in the final phase of Asia’s qualifying tournament for the FIFA World Cup after seeing off the challenge of 1990 finalists the United Arab Emirates and 1982 qualifiers Kuwait.

The biggest surprise, though, came as the Lebanese defeated Korea Republic in Beirut, a result that cost coach Cho Kwang-rae his job at the helm of the eight-time FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

“For us, we are not dreaming and it doesn’t matter who we have to play against,” said Lebanon’s enigmatic German coach Theo Bucker. “All of the teams are very strong and we have to be very careful and be well prepared because we don’t have the right to be overconfident.”

The teams are playing for four-and-a-half berths at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, with the top two nations in each group progressing automatically for the finals in Brazil.

The third-placed teams from each group will meet in a play-off to determine who enters the intercontinental play-offs, where four nations from four confederations will face off for two spots at the finals.

Qualifying recommences for the 10 teams remaining on Asia’s qualifying road to Brazil on June 3 when Uzbekistan entertain Iran and Lebanon host Qatar in Group A, while Iraq travel to Amman to meet Jordan and Oman visit Japan in Group B.

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