Asian eyes firmly on Athens

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AFC - KOREA Republic have been drawn in the so-called ‘group of death’ in the Asian Final Round of Olympic qualifying for next year’s Athens Games.

In today’s draw in Doha, the capital of Qatar, Korea Republic, the second seeds, were drawn with China, Malaysia and Iran in Group A.

“It is a very open draw,” said Zhang Jilong, Vice-President of the China Football Association.

“We’ve never faced such strong opposition at this stage before, so it will be a big test. But we have to be confident and believe in ourselves.”

“No one can predict the outcome” said Dr Hassan Ghaffari, Deputy General Secretary of the Iran Football Federation.

“We have to face some very tough teams, but we have beaten Korea Republic [at the Asian Games in 2000] so we know we have a chance against the top team.”

Japan, the top seeds, have an easier task of booking their place in Greece, having been drawn with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon in Group B.

“We are pleased with the draw,” said a spokesman for the Japan Football Association. “No game is easy at this stage and all the teams are worthy of their place and deserve respect, but we will approach the games with confidence and belief that we can qualify.”

The UAE, conquerors of Thailand in the Second Round, were also pleased with the draw and confident of challenging Japan for top spot.

“We know all about the local teams,” said Youssef Abdulla, Under Secretary of the UAE FA, “and believe we can get good results against them. Japan are strong but we will prepare hard and approach the games with hope.”

Group C sees Kuwait, the third seeds, play Saudi Arabia, Oman and either DPR Korea or Iraq, who have yet to complete their Second Round tie. DPR Korea lead 2-0 after the first leg.

The top team from each of the three groups will qualify for next year’s games. A total of 36 teams entered the Asian qualifying competition at the First Round stage.

The Final Round games will be played between March and May next year, with venues and formats (home and away or central) to be decided by national associations in the next 24 hours.

Iraq will play DPR Korea on November 8 in Jordan in their rescheduled Second Round, second leg game. The second leg was postponed after the DPR Korea team was involved in a car crash on the eve of the game.