Asia eyes kind draw in Cape Town

CAPE TOWN: Asian teams go into the World Cup draw on Friday hoping the dominoes fall in their favour, with plenty to prove in South Africa next year.The region has four sides in the hat — Australia, Japan, North Korea and South Korea, with New Zealand representing Oceania.

The modalities of the draw will only be confirmed next week but the 32 teams will be split into eight groups of four, with each Asian nation guaranteed to be facing a seed.

Of the Asian teams, Australia, Japan and South Korea have recent World Cup pedigree, but for North Korea and New Zealand it has been a long time coming.

North Korea last made it in 1966 while New Zealand have not qualified since 1982.

South Korea, the 2002 semi-finalists under Guus Hiddink, play their seventh consecutive World Cup but coach Huh Jung-Moo, whose team topped their qualifying group, is not thinking about who he wants to face or avoid.

“There is no guarantee of a good result even when you play against teams that are thought to be weak,” he told reporters. “For us, who we get in the draw is not a big deal; we just want to win against each team we play.”

The Socceroos were Asia’s standout performer at the last World Cup in Germany, reaching the round of 16 when coached by Hiddink before being knocked out in stoppage time by eventual champions Italy.

They go into the draw as the region’s highest ranked team at 21 in the world and captain Lucas Neill said confidence was high.

“The team is confident because the results have been good, the performances have been good, but, as a team we can always be better,” he said.

“The more chances we get to get together, the better we’ll become and with the quality that is at the World Cup we know it’s going to be very, very tough.”

Australia won both their qualifying groups, scoring 19 goals and conceding just four in 14 games.

Japan will be appearing at their fourth World Cup, with a round of 16 appearance under firebrand Frenchman Philippe Troussier on home soil in 2002 their highlight.

Current coach Takeshi Okada has adamantly talked about reaching the semi-finals in South Africa, but many feel it will tough for the Blue Samurai to get past the group stages.

Asked which countries Japan wanted to avoid in the draw, he said: “I don’t think about it at all”.

“We’ve got tougher as a team and moved forward little by little in the past year. We may not look brilliant but we have more stable strength than ever.”

North Korea are at their first major football tournament in more than four decades, with their last appearance in the 1966 showpiece in England.

Back then, they became many people’s second team as they beat mighty Italy on the way to the quarter-finals, where they went out to Portugal 5-3.

Regardless of how they fare in South Africa, the team is certain to generate attention because of where they come from — one of the most reclusive countries in the world.

They could also surprise with coach Kim Jong-Hun moulding a hard-working and disciplined team.

“We are confident about competing with the best teams in the world,” he said.

Like North Korea, New Zealand are inexperienced at the top level and have the potential to be the tournament whipping boys, although coach Ricki Herbert is looking on the bright side.

“We aren’t going to shy away from the challenge. We aren’t there to make up the numbers — we will certainly go there in an extremely positive and confident frame of mind,” he told New Zealand media.

In the 1982 World Cup the All Whites drew Brazil, the old Soviet Union and Scotland and lost all their games comprehensively. — AFP

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