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(LEAD) S. Korea get modest draw in final Asian qualification round for 2018 World Cup

All Headlines 20:33 April 12, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS coach's comments in paras 6-10)
By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL, April 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea have drawn modest counterparts in the final Asian qualification round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup as they try to reach the sport's premium competition for the ninth consecutive time.

In the draw held Tuesday at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the 56th-ranked South Korea were paired with Iran (42nd), Uzbekistan (66th), China (81st), Qatar (83rd) and Syria (110th) in Group A.

Eight countries have qualified for the final round by virtue of finishing as group winners from the second qualifying round, along with four best second-place teams. Group B features Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iraq and Thailand. They will play home-and-away under a round-robin format.

The 12 qualifiers from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) were seeded based on the latest FIFA rankings, which were released last Thursday. Iran at No. 42 and Australia at No. 50 were the top two-ranked qualifiers and were placed in the first pot. South Korea at 56th and the 57th-ranked Japan were the next two among qualifiers and were put in the second pot, thus ensuring they would not be paired in the same group.

South Korea will start the final round on Sept. 1 against China at home and will end the campaign on Sept. 5 next year at Uzbekistan.

South Korean head coach Uli Stielike said he doesn't give too much meaning to the group draw, but expects grabbing a ticket to Russia won't be as easy as some people think.

"Since the teams in Group A are evenly matched compared to those in Group B, I expect tough competition," he said. "However, in order to make the 2018 World Cup, we need to finish inside the top two anyways, so it doesn't matter which group we are in."

South Korea are expected to duel Iran for the top spot in Group A. The Taeguk Warriors have posted nine wins, seven draws and 12 losses against Iran, and have suffered 1-0 losses in each of their last three meetings.

Stielike said that South Korea will be especially prepared when they face Iran on the road on Oct. 11 for their fourth match of the final round, calling the match "very important." South Korea have never won on Iranian soil, with two losses and four draws.

"We will be under a lot of pressure there," he said. "But we will work hard to get a positive result."

The winner and runner-up of each group will qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The two third-placed teams will face each other over two matches, and the winner will take on the fourth-placed team from the fifth round of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) qualifiers in a two-legged inter-confederation playoff for the final chance to make the World Cup.

South Korea have played in every World Cup since 1986, and they were semifinalists at the 2002 competition they co-hosted with Japan.

kdon@yna.co.kr
(END)

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