Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Soccer 3rd Round Men's World Cup Qualifying

The pressure is on Japan's Men's soccer team.

With the Japanese woman's team surprising all comers to take the 2011 Women's World Cup last month, the men are beginning to feel a bit of pressure to perform—a fact not made easier with Japan getting placed in a tough bracket for the third qualifying round for the 2014 World Cup.

While Japan is the reigning Asian champs, Japan's coach Alberto Zaccheroni doesn't believe his team will have an easy path to qualifying for the event having been drawn in a tricky Group C with North Korea, Uzbekistan and Syria.

"This is the third round of qualifying so there are no easy groups and no easy opponents," the Italian-born Zaccheroni says. "We are the Asian champions, so our opponents will be doing their homework and come at us firing on all cylinders, but we will just focus on each and every match. This is significant as it will be my first experience of World Cup qualifying. I am always eager for new challenges and am looking forward to this first experience."

Hey! Zaccheroni! The teams you are playing are North Korea, Syria and Uzbekistan! These are not world powers! Although one or all may indeed posses nuclear weapons capabilities. Do your home work and know that you have a superior squad of footballers and kick their collective ass! The World Cup of soccer does not give out trophies for participation! Play to win! That's what Japan's woman's team did! Rant over.

Japan has yet to lose any of the 10 matches that coach Zaccheroni has helmed, and is also the highest world-ranked team of the four at 16, but still the coach has concerns, noting that North Korea (115) played well at the 2010 World Cup; Uzbekistan (83) reached the semifinals of the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar, which is also where Syria (104) only lost to Japan 2-1 in the group phase.

The third round of Asian qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup begins on September 2, 2011, with the top two teams from each of the five groups advancing to the final qualifying stage in June 2012. The 10 teams in the final round will be split into two groups, with the top two from each group automatically qualifying for Brazil. The third-place sides face off for a spot in the intercontinental playoff against a team from South America for a potential fifth place from Asia.

3rd Round Qualifying Schedule: 
Japan vs North Korea @ Saitama-ken, Japan - Sept. 2, 2011
Japan vs Uzbekistan @ Uzebekistan - Sept. 6, 2011
Japan vs Syria @ Osaka-ken, Japan - Oct. 11, 2011
Japan vs. Syria @ Syria - Nov. 11, 2011
Japan vs. North Korea @ N. Korea - Nov. 15, 2011
Japan vs Uzbekistan @ Aichi-ken, Japan - Feb. 29, 2012.

Japan and Uzbekistan were also grouped together during the final qualifiers for South Africa at the 2010 World Cup event.

"There are no easy groups. Whoever you play in Asia it is always a tough battle," Japan's Belgian-based goalkeeper Kawashima Eiji (surname first) offers. "The most important thing is that we all prepare well."

Adds Borussia Dortmund midfielder Kagawa Shinji, "Whomever you play, it is difficult and we cannot afford to be complacent against any of our opponents."

North Korea striker Chong Tese, who used to play in Japan and is now at German second-division club Bochum, said on his blog, "We will definitely qualify with Japan. It's the group of death and Japan and Uzbekistan will both be feeling the heat."

Geez... that sounds ominous.

Japan was drawn together with North Korea in the final qualifying round for the 2006 finals and won 2-0 behind closed doors in Bangkok, Thailand to go to the tourney then held in Germany. That match had been scheduled to be played in Pyongyang but soccer's world governing body FIFA ordered North Korea to play the match at a neutral venue as punishment for crowd violence that marred its 2-0 qualifying defeat to Iran in the reclusive state's capital.

The 3rd round draw held in Rio determined the path of 166 teams in their bid to qualify for the tournament in three years' time. Fifty-three European nations were divided into nine groups, with the winners automatically qualifying and the eight best group runnersup advancing to a playoff. The European qualifying matches will begin Sept. 7 and end Oct. 15, 2013.

Here's a full list of the draws for the 3rd Qualifying round:
African Zone 
Group A: South Africa, Botswana, Central African Republic, Somalia or Ethiopia;
Group B: Tunisia, Cape Verde Islands, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea or Madagascar;
Group C: Côte d'Ivoire, Morocco, Gambia, Chad or Tanzania;
Group D: Ghana, Zambia, Sudan, Lesotho or Burundi;
Group E: Burkina Faso, Gabon, Niger, Sao Tome e Principe or Congo;
Group F: Nigeria, Malawi, Seychelles or Kenya, Djibouti or Namibia;
Group G: Egypt, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Comoros or Mozambique;
Group H: Algeria, Mali, Benin, Eritrea or Rwanda;
Group I: Cameroon, Libya, Guinea-Bissau or Togo, Swaziland or Congo DR;
Group J: Senegal, Uganda, Angola, Mauritius or Liberia

Asian Zone
Group A: China, Jordan, Iraq, Singapore;
Group B: Korea Republic, Kuwait, UAE, Lebanon;
Group C: Japan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Korea DPR;
Group D: Australia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Thailand;
Group E: Iran, Qatar, Bahrain, Indonesia

North, Central America and the Caribbean (Round Two)
Group A: El Salvador, Surinam, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic;
Group B: Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Barbados, Bermuda;
Group C: Panama, Dominica, Nicaragua, Bahamas;
Group D: Canada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Puerto Rico, St Lucia;
Group E: Grenada, Guatemala, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize;
Group F: Haiti, Antigua and Barbuda, Curacao, US Virgin Islands

North, Central America and the Caribbean (Round Three)
Group A: USA, Jamaica, Winner of R2 Grp E, Winner of R2 Grp F;
Group B: Mexico, Costa Rica, Winner of R2 Grp A, Winner of R2 Grp B;
Group C: Honduras, Cuba, Winner of R2 Grp D, Winner of R2 Grp C

(Group 2 phase not complete: winners of each group advances.)

Oceanian Zone
Group A: Vanuatu, New Caledonia, American Samoa/Cook Islands/Samoa or Tonga, Tahiti;
Group B: Fiji, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea

European Zone
Group A: Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Scotland, Macedonia, Wales;
Group B: Italy, Denmark, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Armenia, Malta;
Group C: Germany, Sweden, Republic of Ireland, Austria, Faroe Islands, Kazakhstan;
Group D: Netherlands, Turkey, Hungary, Romania, Estonia, Andorra;
Group E: Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland, Albania, Cyprus, Iceland;
Group F: Portugal, Russia, Israel, Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan, Luxembourg;
Group G: Greece, Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lithuania, Latvia, Lichtenstein;
Group H: England, Montenegro, Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, San Marino;
Group I: Spain, France, Belarus, Georgia, Finland

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph

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