Good draw for Japan

FRANKFURT (Kyodo) Japan’s hopes of appearing in the World Cup finals for the third consecutive time were boosted Friday after it was handed a relatively easy draw for the Asian qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

The 2002 World Cup cohost was placed in Group 3 along with Oman, India and Singapore at the preliminary draw in Frankfurt.

The Asian qualifying competition is scheduled to be played in a league format with four teams in each of the eight groups playing each other twice in a home-and-away format.

Japan, which reached the second round of last year’s World Cup the country co-hosted with South Korea, will kick off its campaign against Oman at home Feb. 18 before playing Singapore away March 31 and India at home June 9.

The return matches against India and Oman will be played in September and October, respectively, with Japan’s final match at home against Singapore on Nov. 17.

Only the top team from each of the groups will advance to the final round of Asian qualifiers to be played between February and September in 2005. The top two teams from each group in the final qualifying stage progress directly to the World Cup.

No cake walk: Zico

SAITAMA (Kyodo) Japan coach Zico warned his players on Saturday not to underestimate Asia’s lower-ranked teams a day after Japan was drawn against unfancied opponents Oman, Singapore and India in the regional qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

“Looking at recent data, Oman would appear to be tough opponents since they beat South Korea and booked their ticket to the (2004) Asian Cup (in China),” the Brazilian told reporters.

“But, as I’m sure the players already know, if you start thinking that Oman are the strongest team and dismiss Singapore and India then there could be dire consequences,” Zico added.

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