With many still analysing the 'one-day' Socceroos 1-0 loss in Sydney at the hands of China, the draw for the next and most crucial round of qualifiers will be announced tonight in Kuala Lumpur. Being dealt into the group of death which saw the Asian champions, Iraq, departing early at the hands of some questionable FIFA policies regarding the Brazilian come Qatar player Marcio Passos De Albuquerque aka Emerson who was found to be ineligible to play for Qatar, the Socceroos are praying for some luck going into the next draw.
Basically 10 nations remain in the hunt for the 4 full and 1 half world cup spots available to Asian teams. Namely Australia, South Korea, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Uzbekistan, North Korea, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Tonight's draw will divide the 10 teams into 2 pools of 5 teams. The two top nations of each pool will take the 4 full WC spots. The two teams that finish third in each pool will play off against each other for the half spot. The winner out of the two third placed teams will then battle the winner of the Oceania region for a world cup birth.
The draw works by splitting the 10 teams into 4 pots based on rankings. Currently Japan and Saudi Arabia are equally ranked 4th. And as such a preliminary draw will be held to separate the two teams. One team from pots' 1, 2 and 3 and two teams from pot 4 are selected to form each of the two pools. As it stands
Pot 1: Australia, South Korea
Pot 2: Iran, Japan/Saudi Arabia
Pot 3: Japan/Saudi Arabia, Bahrain
Pot 4: Uzbekistan, North Korea, United Arab Emirates, Qatar
Australia will therefore be fortunate enough to escape battling South Korea for qualification but, depending on the luck of the draw, could face Iran, Japan, Uzbekistan and North Korea. Alternatively if the football gods are in much of our favour as Mohamed bin Hammam (AFC president) is suggested to be, then Australia could have a slightly less challenging task in the likes of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Qatar.
Tentative dates for the next round of qualifications are:
Sept 6: Bye
Sept 10: Away
Oct 15: Home
Nov 19: Away
Feb 11: Away
Mar 28: Bye
Apr 1: Home
Jun 6: Away
Jun 10: Home
June 17: Home
It has already been arranged that Australia's' last home game will be against the team that is ranked just below them, either Iran or the winners of the preliminary draw between Japan and Saudi Arabia. Given that there is a good chance that this will either be Iran (the team who knocked us out of the 1998 world cup or the Japanese who ended our limp Asian cup debut and whom Australia racked up their first World Cup finals victory, there should be nothing for early ticket holders to whinge or complain about. And at the end of the day we all want to jump and scream in a stadium full of Australians - wearing our green and gold!