Japan, Australia paths cross on road to Brazil

Japan, Australia paths cross on road to Brazil

Japan, Australia paths cross on road to Brazil

Japan’s Shinji Kagawa (L) vies with an Uzbekistan defender during a qualifier. AFP photo

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 March 9.

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.

The pair will be favorites 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 is 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 Saudi Arabia.

“It’s fate or surprise to have the Asia Cup winners playing with Australia again,” Socceroos 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.”

South Korea was drawn in a more favorable 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.

South Korea will be favorites to take one of the two World Cup places available from Group A with Carlos Queiroz’s Iran expected to join.

However, Uzbekistan and Qatar, 2022 World Cup hosts, should provide a stern test.