Japan, Australia and Saudi Arabia grouped together in third round of Asian World Cup qualifying

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Japan, Australia and Saudi Arabia will face each other in the third round of Asia’s World Cup qualification for a third cycle in a row following Thursday’s draw in Kuala Lumpur.

The three powerhouses, with 19 World Cup appearances between them, have been placed in Group C with Bahrain, China and Indonesia.

Asia’s automatic allocation has increased from four teams in 2022 to eight in 2026. The top two from each of the three groups of six will qualify for the World Cup, while the six teams that finish third and fourth will progress to the fourth round of qualification to play off for two more places.

Australia coach Graham Arnold believes that his team is stronger than before.

“In the last campaign we didn’t have the depth in the team that we have today,” Arnold, in charge since 2018, said. “A lot of people are sitting back and thinking that there are 8 1/2 teams potentially going to be qualifying and that it’s going to be easier, but the draw has shown today that there’s three tough groups.”

Group A consists of Iran, which has appeared at the last three World Cups, and Asian champion Qatar, the 2022 host seeking to qualify for a first time. Uzbekistan can make a first appearance, as can Central Asian neighbor Kyrgyzstan. The United Arab Emirates made it in 1990, while North Korea qualified in 1966 and 2010.

Tim Cahill, the former Australia international who is now the Qatar soccer association’s technical director, is looking forward to the challenge.

“We always have to believe there is a chance,” Cahill said. “Now we know who we are going to play, and what it comes down to is the preparation, logistics, and making sure the squad is ready mentally and physically. This is a different stage for us, and it will involve traveling and visiting many countries. It will be difficult, but we have to play.”

South Korea will record an 11th successive World Cup appearance if it can finish in the top two of Group C. Of the five opponents for the 2002 semifinalist only Iraq, in 1986, and Kuwait, in 1982, have made it before. Jordan, Oman and the Palestine round out the group.

The third round will kick off in September and end in June 2025.


AP soccer: https://apnews.com/soccer

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