Soccer

Japan grouped with Myanmar, Mongolia for 2022 World Cup qualifiers

Kyodo, AP

Japan will face Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Myanmar and Mongolia in the second round of 2022 World Cup Asian qualifying after being drawn in Group F on Wednesday.

The draw at the Asian Football Confederation’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur saw the 34 top-ranked sides in Asia, along with the six winners of first-round ties, placed in eight qualifying groups.

At No. 28 in the FIFA rankings, Japan is the highest-ranked side in the group, with No. 95 Kyrgyzstan the next highest.

The second round of Asian qualifying for the World Cup finals in Qatar will run from Sept. 5, 2019, to June 9, 2020. The group winners and four best runnersup will advance to the third round. The 12 sides will also automatically qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup.

Led by Hajime Moriyasu, the Samurai Blue aim to qualify for a seventh straight World Cup as the tournament comes to Asia for just the second time.

“Now it feels like the battle has begun to reach the World Cup in Qatar,” Moriyasu said following the draw.

“No matter where you play or who you face, you have to respect your opponent and give 100 percent.”

Newly appointed Thailand head coach Akira Nishino — who managed Japan at the 2018 World Cup with Moriyasu as his assistant — will try to lead his team through Group G, which also includes the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Keisuke Honda, a member of Japan’s past three World Cup squads, will lead Cambodia into Group C following his appointment as national team manager last year. They will face Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Hong Kong.

North and South Korea were drawn together in Group H and will play each other home and away in the five-nation pod that also includes Lebanon, Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka.

Saudi Arabia and Yemen were also paired in Wednesday’s draw, which involved some political sensitivities.

The Saudis, who played at the 2018 World Cup, are the top-seed in Group D, which also features Uzbekistan, Palestine and Singapore.

Australia, which plays in the Asian soccer confederation, will play Jordan, Taiwan, Kuwait and Nepal in Group B.

World Cup host Qatar will also participate as this group stage doubles up as the qualifiers for the 2023 Asian Cup in China. Qatar will play Oman, India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh in Group E.

China is in Group A with Syria, Philippines, Maldives and Guam.

The Korean derbies will be the first in World Cup qualifying for more than a decade. Then, the teams were grouped together in back-to-back rounds as both advanced to the 2010 tournament in South Africa.

Both North Korea’s home games were played in Shanghai when then-leader Kim Jong-il’s government declined to play by FIFA protocol rules.

Asia is the first continental body to begin setting its groups. Africa’s confederation will draw its first games next week and kick off in September.

European soccer body UEFA is scheduled to pick its format for deciding 13 qualifying places in September. The 55 European teams should begin World Cup qualifying groups in March 2021.

In the North American region CONCACAF, the United States and Mexico are set to be in a group of six top-ranked teams playing for three guaranteed places from September 2020.