Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate
soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.
Read earlier columns
Asian Cup qualifiers to resume
If managed properly, confederations' international tournaments can be real
showpieces. Europe has led the way with its settled calendar - two years
of the European Championship and two years of the World Cup in each four
The success of the Euros (easily the best international football
tournament after the World Cup) has presented challenges to the other
With its long history and some great teams, the Copa America should be a
great football tournament but it is, in fact, a farce. It invites teams
from other confederations (a sure way of defeating the purpose of a
continental championship), it has a format that rewards group phase
mediocrity, and you can almost guarantee organisational chaos. Remember
Argentina withdrawing in 2001? Can anyone now tell you whether the
competition is held every two, three or four years? Oh, and (here's my
favourite) CONMEBOL is looking at including 16 teams in the next
tournament in Venezuela - that's six more teams than the confederation
has. With Asia and CONCACAF also holding tournaments in mid-2007, I'm not
sure where the six teams are going to come from. Africa? Europe? Oceania?
(Now there's an idea. We can finally get that Uruguay v Solomon Islands
match that the Socceroos denied...)
It's no better north of the Darien Gap because CONCACAF's Gold Cup has all
of the Copa America's shortcomings and the added drawback of teams missing
several top players. Guest teams (from other confederations) at the Gold
Cup make even less sense because they're there at the expense of CONCACAF
teams. Why not hold a decent 16-team tournament once every four years?
There's just enough quality - ten teams from this confederation have
qualified for the World Cup finals.
Oceania has, sadly, abolished its championship. Well it may as well have
because it's now being played, home and away, over an 18-month period.
Whoever finishes top becomes the Oceania champion and there are no finals.
The Oceania Nations Cup will also double as World Cup qualifiers.
(Although Australia has left Oceania, I still can't help caring about the
much-maligned confederation. At least it isn't unique in its ability to
completely screw things up.)
The African Cup of Nations is one of the better continental championships
but it is hampered by the timing of its tournaments. The finals are held,
every two years, in January/February and that makes club v country battles
That leaves the Asian Cup. The 2004 edition was extremely controversial -
so much so that next year's tournament will be a real test of credibility.
Still, its fundamentals are good. Its finals are held every four years
(all these tournaments should be); those finals include 16 teams; and
they'll next be held in July next year. (And there will be no guest
appearances by Brazil's under-23 team. Or Honduras.)
As leap years include the Euros and the Olympics, the tournament has
sensibly been moved to the year after the World Cup finals. The only
problem with that was that qualifiers needed to start earlier this year -
before the World Cup finals.
With qualification beginning (for most teams) in February and ending in
November, there weren't enough dates for official matches on the FIFA
International Match Calendar for the full series. So when the qualifiers
resume on Wednesday, teams like Japan and Australia will only field
players from their domestic competitions.
Next year's finals will be co-hosted by four nations: Indonesia, Malaysia,
Thailand and Vietnam. That leaves just 12 places to be filled by the teams
that finish first and second in the six qualifying groups (which each have
Worryingly, only 29 of the AFC's 46 teams entered the competition. The 25
that needed to go through the qualification groups needed to be trimmed by
one so Pakistan and Bangladesh played off in a preliminary round.
Bangladesh won the two-legged home-and-away playoff 1-0 but the Pakistanis
were given a reprieve when Sri Lanka withdrew from the tournament.
The draw for the qualification groups began with teams in four pots with
Pot A being the strongest and Pot D the weakest. The pots were as follows:
Pot A: Bahrain, China, Iran, Japan, Jordan and Uzbekistan.
Pot B: Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
Pot C: Hong Kong, Lebanon, Singapore, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Pot D: Australia, India, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Pakistan or
You might be wondering how on earth Australia ended up in the weakest pot
and why Saudi Arabia and South Korea are not in Pot A. It's simply because
there is only one criterion for seeding teams - performance in the last
Asian Cup. In 2004, Saudi Arabia made a first round exit, South Korea went
out in the quarter-finals, and Australia was not yet a member of the AFC.
Nevertheless, the draw could have produced a group that included three
teams that qualified for the 2006 World Cup finals (and that would have
meant that at least one would fail to reach the Asian Cup finals). It
didn't happen but, as if to prove that even Asian Cup qualifiers can have
a Group of Death, Australia was drawn to meet Bahrain and Kuwait in Group
It's time to look at the groups, how they stand at the moment, and who
should join Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam in the finals. Most
teams have already played twice but the five nations that qualified for
Germany 2006 were all allowed to postpone one match until after those
P W D L F-A Pts
Japan 1 1 0 0 6-0 3
Saudi Arabia 1 1 0 0 4-0 3
Yemen 2 1 0 1 3-4 3
India 2 0 0 2 0-9 0
Matches on 16 August: India v Saudi Arabia and Japan v Yemen
This group is as straightforward as they come. Yemen can spark
occasionally but you wouldn't expect them to achieve more than perhaps a
surprise draw against one of the top two teams. I didn't see the Saudis'
4-0 victory in Yemen but accounts of the game suggest that the final score
was a little flattering to the winners. The Indians have now conceded 17
goals in their last three matches against Japan after also being grouped
with them in 2006 World Cup qualifiers. (Australia is going to have to
break one of the laws of Asian sport - if you play serious cricket your
national football team is rubbish.) Don't expect any shocks in Group A.
Japan and Saudi Arabia should qualify easily.
P W D L F-A Pts
Iran 1 1 0 0 4-0 3
Syria 2 1 0 1 5-2 3
South Korea 1 1 0 0 2-1 3
Chinese Taipei 2 0 0 2 0-8 0
Matches on 16 August: Chinese Taipei v South Korea and Iran v Syria
Another group featuring two teams that qualified for Germany. Syria should
be a stronger third seed than Yemen but the Syrians missed a chance of
getting a result in their opening qualifier. At home, Syria drew level
with South Korea in the second half but went behind again a minute later
and the final score was 1-2. Now Syria goes to the Azadi Stadium to face
Iran after a run of poor results in friendlies. I expect Iran to win and
all but settle the group's outcome: Iran and South Korea to qualify.
P W D L F-A Pts
UAE 2 2 0 0 5-1 6
Oman 2 1 0 1 3-1 3
Jordan 2 1 0 1 3-3 3
Pakistan 2 0 0 2 1-7 0
Matches on 16 August: Pakistan v Oman and Jordan v UAE
Oman's surprising 3-0 home win over the Jordanians and United Arab
Emirates' strong early form have blown this group open. Jordan reached the
quarter-finals of the 2004 Asian Cup and was controversially eliminated by
Japan after a penalty shootout. It would be a real shock if Jordan failed
to qualify for 2007. But the top three teams in this group all reached the
2004 finals so someone has to miss out. After good results in recent
friendlies, the Jordanians seem to have their act together again and I'll
back them to qualify with UAE.
P W D L F-A Pts
Australia 1 1 0 0 3-1 3
Kuwait 1 0 1 0 0-0 1
Bahrain 2 0 1 1 3-1 1
Lebanon 0 0 0 0 0-0 0
Match on 16 August: Australia v Kuwait
With Australia technically the bottom seed, Group D loomed as the most
interesting in the qualification series. Lebanon, probably the least
likely of the four to qualify, spiced things up further by holding Kuwait
to a draw on the opening day. But recent events have forced Lebanon to
pull out of the tournament so that result has now been cancelled. With the
top two going to the finals and only three teams left in the group,
Australia can clinch qualification by defeating Kuwait in Sydney on
Wednesday night. It won't be easy because the Socceroos' team will be
drawn from players from the Australian league and a few will be winning
their first caps. Even if they don't get three points on Wednesday, the
Aussies should eventually qualify. It's a tough call but I'll pick Kuwait
to edge Bahrain out for the other spot despite only managing a goalless
draw when the teams met in Kuwait.
P W D L F-A Pts
China 2 1 0 1 3-2 3
Singapore 2 1 0 1 2-1 3
Iraq 2 1 0 1 2-3 3
Palestine 2 1 0 1 1-2 3
Match on 16 August: China v Singapore
Match on 17 August: Palestine v Iraq
What happens next in this group? On day one, Singapore stunned Iraq while
China defeated Palestine. Then the two losers beat the two winners: Iraq
defeated China and Palestine scored the only goal of its match against
Singapore. You'd expect China and Iraq to be favourites here - I'll pick
them to be the teams that eventually qualify - and the picture might
become a little clearer after this week's games. But I won't be putting
any money on anything in this group. Complicating matters is the recent
resignation of Iraq's coach who recently received death threats and took
his family away from Baghdad. I understand that Iraq's football
association has refused to accept his resignation.
P W D L F-A Pts
Qatar 2 2 0 0 5-1 6
Uzbekistan 2 1 0 1 6-2 3
Hong Kong 2 1 0 1 1-3 3
Bangladesh 2 0 0 2 0-6 0
Matches on 16 August: Bangladesh v Qatar and Uzbekistan v Hong Kong
Qatar and Uzbekistan should qualify from Group F easily. Hong Kong went
down 0-3 to Qatar at home and is unlikely to take anything from the trip
to Uzbekistan. The Uzbeks should be the strongest team in this group but
they lost in Qatar after taking the lead. World Cup trivia buffs should
know that Uzbekistan is now being coached by Valeri Nepomniatchi. There is
also some 1990 World Cup nostalgia in Group A with the great Ivica Osim
replacing Zico as coach of Japan.
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