Asia's road begins here | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 05, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 05, 2008

South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup

Asia's road begins here

The Asian road to South Africa begins in earnest on Wednesday with the region's heavyweights joining World Cup qualifying, with at least one big nation guaranteed to fail.
From an initial 41 teams, Asian sides have been whittled down to 20 and only the first and second in each of the five groups from third round qualifying will make the fourth and final round.
With Australia, China and Asian champions Iraq all drawn together in a "group of death", at least one will crash out.
The Socceroos begin their campaign under new coach Pim Verbeek in Melbourne against Asian Games winners Qatar.
And they have plenty to prove after a disappointing Asian Cup last year where they failed to live up to their reputation.
For his first game in charge, Verbeek has included a host of his overseas-based players, including 2006 World Cup stars Tim Cahill, Brett Emerton, Lucas Neill and Mark Schwarzer.
But in a massive selection shock he left out Liverpool star Harry Kewell, along with Bristol City midfielder Nick Carle and German-based Michael Beauchamp.
"I have now had six days with the players in Melbourne and I have made the decision that those players will not be required to travel to Australia," Verbeek said over the weekend.
"Obviously, the three players are disappointed that I have not selected them, but I appreciate that they were available to come if I wanted them to."
The other teams in Group A -- Iraq and China -- play each other on neutral territory in Dubai.
After years of striving for international success, Iraq are longing to emulate their old feats in the 1980s, when qualified for Mexico 1986.
Norwegian Egil Olsen is now in charge and they will be confident against China with skipper Younis Mahmoud again teaming up with strike partner Emad Mohammed.
Nashat Akram will be keen to put the disappointment behind him of failing to get a British work permit after impressing during a trial with Manchester City.
China has its own motivation to make only their second World Cup finals -- an eight million yuan (1.09 million dollars) bonus from the China Football Association if they qualify.
In a New Year's pledge, the national side, lead by Charlton's Zheng Zhi, read an oath to the country, highlighting their determination.
"I pledge to advance to the World Cup, which is the professional goal that we strive for," the players recited, according to state media.
"We swear by death to kill along the bloody road of defending the honour of the motherland and realise our youthful dreams."
Traditional Asian powerhouse Japan take on Thailand in Group B at Saitama.
Thai coach Chanvit Phalajivin is under no illusions that Japan will qualify for their fourth consecutive World Cup, but remains optimistic that his team can take second spot in the group.
"It's a tough group, with Japan being the unquestionable favourites," he told "However, I think we can take the group's second qualifying place by beating Bahrain and Oman."
Verbeek's old team South Korea, Asia's most successful on the world stage having qualified for the past six World Cups, open their account at home against minnows Turkmenistan.
Jordan and North Korea are the other teams in Group C.
Singapore have a tough task against triple Asian champions Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, but their Serbian coach Radojko Avramovic has turned The Lions into a competitive team and a Saudi victory is by no means guaranteed.
"It will be a hard match but we are not looking at Saudi Arabia as the end point. We plan on going well beyond that," said the determined Avramovic, a former Yugoslav international.
Uzbekistan take on Lebanon in Beirut in the other Group D match.
Elsewhere, Iran play Syria and United Arab Emirates are against Kuwait.

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