The draw for the AFC Final Round Qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games has been made with Japan, who were the only team to qualify with a flawless record in the second stage, handed a tough outing in Group C against the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Vietnam.
Group A saw 2004 Olympics fourth-place finishers Iraq grouped with DPR Korea, Lebanon and Australia, while in Group B, Korea Republic will have Bahrain, Syria and Uzbekistan for company.
Twelve teams came out of the pots today at the AFC House here and were split into three groups of four each for the final round which will run through August 22 till November 21, with only the group toppers representing Asia at the Beijing Olympic Games next year. Hosts China qualify automatically.
Japan were by far the most impressive side in the second stage, winning each and every game, but coach Yasuharu Sorimachi will need to reproduce that magic when playing against Saudi Arabia, who pushed the strong Australians into second place in Group D, and Vietnam, who topped Group C ahead of Lebanon on goal difference. The Japanese are also bound to find Qatar, runners-up in Group A, tricky customers.
Vietnam’s performance was so impressive that senior national team coach Alfred Riedl promptly called up 12 Olympic side members to the AFC Asian Cup 2007™ squad.
Group A is also perhaps the most well balanced of the three groups with Group E toppers Iraq and runners-up DPR Korea, and Asian newcomers Australia all in with a chance. The Australians were pushed hard in Group D but eventually managed to book their berth.
Iraq have the most impeccable pedigree of this lot, having finished fourth in the 2004 Olympics after losing to Italy 1-0 in the bronze medal playoff. Iraq had defeated Australia 1-0 in the semifinals then.
Korea Republic seem to be favourites, at least on paper, to advance from Group B, especially after their powerful performance in Group F. Uzbekistan, their group rivals, are no strangers after both slugged it out in the second stage, with the Koreans comfortably finishing on top of the group.
GROUP A - Iraq, DPR Korea, Lebanon, Australia
GROUP B - Korea Republic, Bahrain, Syria, Uzbekistan
GROUP C- Japan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Qatar
Match dates for AFC Final Round Qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympic
MD 1 – 22nd Aug 2007
MD 2 – 8th Sept 2007
MD 3 – 12th Sept 2007
MD 4 – 17th Oct 2007
MD 5 – 17th Nov 2007
MD 6 – 21st Nov 2007