Tue, Nov 27, 2007 - Page 20 News List

FIFA: World Cup draw proves cruel and kind

ALRIGHT FOR SOME While the holders got off relatively lightly, Australia, China, Iraq and Qatar were drawn together in what has been dubbed the `Group of Death'

AFP , DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA

Holders Italy were pitched against Bulgaria and North and South Korea were drawn together in Sunday's draw for qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

England were handed a rapid chance to gain revenge on Croatia, whose 3-2 win at Wembley on Wednesday ensured they failed to qualify for a major finals for the first time in 14 years.

Managerless England were also drawn against last year's quarter-finalists Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Andorra in Group 6 while Italy also come up against the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, Georgia and Montenegro in Group 8.

Italy coach Roberto Donadoni cited Bulgaria as the biggest threat to the quest for repeat glory, acknowledging his side were group favorites.

"Bulgaria, Eire, Georgia, Montenegro don't have a great football tradition but they are difficult opponents," he said. "On paper Bulgaria should be the one to push us closest for qualification. Like all former Yugoslavian countries Montenegro are a difficult and stubborn team."

The 1998 world champions France meet Romania and Serbia in Group 7 and Germany come up against Russia, Finland and Wales in Group 4.

Scotland, who gave France and Italy a scare in the Euro 2008 qualifiers, found themselves up against Holland in Group 9.

Dutch coach Marco van Basten said that Scotland deserved respect.

"I watched their match against Italy last week and they were very good and we know they will always fight to the last minute," he said.

The winners of the nine European groups qualify automatically with the eight best runners up entering two-leg play-offs to decide the remaining four spots for the region.

Meanwhile China were drawn against group seeds Australia, Asian champions Iraq and Qatar in an Asian zone "group of death" while Japan will take on Bahrain, Oman and Thailand in Group 2.

Australia's caretaker coach Rob Baan acknowledged it was tricky draw.

"It's one of the toughest groups but at the same time we have enough information on each country so we can prepare well," he said.

In an intriguing match-up in Asia's Group 3, North and South Korea were drawn together.

The only team guaranteed to appear at the finals are the hosts South Africa.

However they could affect the chance for qualification of African powerhouses Nigeria after being drawn in the same group as the Super Eagles, with the results also counting towards the 2010 African Cup of Nations.

South America's qualifying campaign, which got underway last month, is organized on the usual lines with the 10 countries in the region playing in one round-robin group with the top four qualifying automatically and the fifth-placed side playing off against a team from the North/Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF).

In the CONCACAF confederation, Mexico will face the winners of a tie between Belize and St Kitts and Nevis while the US will meet the winners of the Dominica v Barbados playoff.

With the focus for once on soccer, concerns about stop-start stadium construction, security in one of most crime-ridden societies on the planet and all the other logistical issues associated with hosting the finals in Africa for the first time were put aside.

At a glittering ceremony in Durban, FIFA president Sepp Blatter and South African President Thabo Mbeki both pledged preparations were well on track.

"Africa is ready, Africa's time has come. Africa is calling, come to Africa in 2010," Mbeki said.

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