Japan to face Australia, Zico’s Iraq in qualifiers


Asian champion Japan was drawn into a tough yet mouth-watering Group B with Australia, Jordan, Oman and Zico-led Iraq for the final round of 2014 World Cup qualifying on Friday at the Asian Football Confederation’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

Alberto Zaccheroni’s side lifted the Asian Cup last year with victory over Holger Osieck’s Australia in the final. In its first match of that tournament, Japan produced an injury-time 1-1 draw with Jordan.

Oman coach Paul Le Guen will be eager to exact revenge against Japan, which he lost to as manager of Cameroon in the first round of the 2010 World Cup.

Zico led Japan into the 2006 World Cup with 11 wins from 12 qualifiers, but the Blue Samurai crashed out of Germany after losing to Australia and Brazil and drawing with Croatia.

Group A includes South Korea, Iran, Uzbekistan, Qatar and Lebanon. Australia and South Korea, currently the two highest Asian teams in the FIFA rankings, are the seeds of each group.

“I have complete faith in my players,” Zaccheroni said. “With the Middle East teams and Australia in the group, there will be a lot of traveling and how we manage that will be crucial.

“Of the four teams, we played two of them at the Asian Cup. I think every team has a chance, just as in the other group. It would have been tough either way.”

“The important thing is for the players to stay fit. You need to be physically ready when you get the call because this isn’t some league where you have the luxury of 38 games to generate results,” he said.

The top two in each group will qualify automatically for Brazil. The third-place teams will play off for a place in the intercontinental playoff against South America’s fifth-place team for a potential fifth ticket out of Asia.