Fri, Nov 23, 2007 - Page 23 News List

Asia's top soccer sides prepare for Cup draw in Durban

EYES ON THE PRIZE Apart from the five seeded teams, only four of the other 15 Asian qualifiers have played in the World Cup finals

AFP , DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA

Asia's top soccer nations go into the preliminary World Cup draw in Durban on Sunday knowing there will be at least one high-profile casualty when it comes to the crunch in 2010.

With Australia now part of the Asian Football Confederation, the region has four automatic qualifying berths for the showpiece in South Africa while the fifth placed team will play off against Oceania's best, probably New Zealand.

Australia have been seeded as Asia's No.1 team by FIFA based on their performance in Germany last year where they reached the knockout rounds.

They are followed by South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Japan, who all failed to make it past the group stages.

China is also in the mix, anxious to make amends for their failure to qualify for last year's tournament, or to make the knockout phase at this year's Asian Cup.

Throw in Asian champions Iraq and someone is going to miss out.

BYES

The five seeds received byes through the opening two rounds and will be joined by 15 other teams who had to qualify to be in the hat on Sunday for the third round which gets under way on Feb. 6.

It will divide them into five groups of four, with a seed in each. The first and second in each group qualify for round four, the final push on the road to South Africa.

But on the eve of the draw all is not well among the top tier, with four of the teams without coaches.

Australia are still recovering from being snubbed by Dick Advocaat, who was set to be unveiled as the Socceroos new coach last weekend but changed his mind.

Jurgen Klinsmann, Martin Jol, and even Jose Mourinho have been mentioned as possible replacements, but what Australia need is an appointment quickly to prepare them for what will be a tough qualifying campaign.

"All we want to do is get someone in who can stamp their own style on Australia so we know what's right and what's wrong in the way we play," said captain Lucas Neill.

Australia are still learning the ropes of how soccer is played in Asia after their shortfalls were exposed in their inaugural Asian Cup in June where heat sapped their strength and they failed to make it past the quarter-final stage.

Japan are also in a state of flux after coach Ivica Osim suffered a serious stroke last week, with a replacement almost certainly needed.

LEADERLESS

South Korea, World Cup semi-finalists in 2002, have been leaderless since Dutchman Pim Verbeek resigned in late July after their disappointing third-place finish in the Asian Cup.

Korean newspapers have cited potential candidates to include former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier; Mick McCarthy, who managed Ireland and is currently manager of English side Wolverhampton Wanderers; and Czech veteran Milan Macala.

A Korea Football Association official said that a formal decision should be made by the end of the month.

The other teams waiting to find out who they will be drawn against are Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Singapore, Syria, Thailand, Turkmenistan, UAE, and Uzbekistan.

Outside of this year's seeds, only four of the other teams in contention have ever lifted their game to make the finals over the past 40 years -- the UAE in 1990, Iraq in 1986, Kuwait in 1982 and North Korea in 1966.

South Korea have been the most consistent Asian team, qualifying for the last six World Cups.

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