Asian World Cup qualifying

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2 Koreas move toward meeting in World Cup qualifying

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Before a meeting of the Korean neighbors in the second stage of 2022 World Cup qualifying, North Korea must navigate a potentially tricky opening fixture against Lebanon in Pyongyang on Thursday.

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Forty teams are still active on the road to Qatar but only the eight group winners and four best-placed teams progress to the next stage where Asia’s four automatic places in the World Cup are up for grabs.

South Korea, the favorite in Group H, is scheduled to visit Pyongyang on Oct. 15 in a meeting between two countries technically at war.

“We know that North Korea will be tough at home and have World Cup history but we want to get a good start,” Lebanon coach Liviu Ciobotariu said. “In a group that also has South Korea, every game is vital.”

South Korea, looking for a tenth successive World Cup appearance, sits out the first round of games this week, as do all eight top-ranked teams in Asia, and kicks off against Turkmenistan on Tuesday.

Also Thursday, Turkmenistan takes on Sri Lanka, the world’s 200th ranked team. Unlike South Korea, the South Asians are unlikely to progress to the next stage but there is still much at stake.

After the Easter Sunday suicide bombing in Colombo that killed more than 250 people, first round opponent Macau refused to travel to the island for the return leg of their first-round qualifier in June and forfeited the match. Sri Lanka is keen to show that life has returned to normal.

“Terrorists have attacked many developed countries in the past and this does not affect carrying out the affairs of any sport,” the country’s football federation declared in a statement. “Sri Lanka shall enjoy its right to host the home game in Sri Lanka and every county shall respect each other’s right to host similar games.”

Southeast Asia also has plenty to play for. The biggest crowd this week will likely be in Jakarta as Indonesia takes on rival Malaysia in front of what is expected to be 80,000 fans.

Feelings between the two neighbors can run high. According to reports in Malaysia, Football Association of Malaysia president Hamidin Mohd Amin has requested that an armored personnel carrier be on standby.

“We are not worried about the situation at the stadium itself as there are a lot of security personnel from both Malaysia and Indonesia guarding the perimeter,” Hamidin told local media. “But there is a risk of provocation and chaos en route.”

Thailand hosts Vietnam in the same group while Mongolia plays its first ever game in the second round of World Cup qualifying and faces Myanmar.

Elsewhere, 2022 World Cup host Qatar is placed in Group E and kicks off against Afghanistan. Regardless of how the Asian champion performs, it will not progress to the next stage of World Cup qualification. Qatar is involved as the path to the 2022 World Cup has been combined with qualification for the 2023 Asian Cup which will take place in China.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

FIFA clears Iraq to host World Cup qualifying games in Basra

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ZURICH — FIFA says the southern Iraqi city of Basra can host the national team’s return to playing World Cup qualifying games at home.

Security concerns since the 1980s have forced Iraq to host most qualifiers in neutral countries. Iraq played “home” games in Iran, Jordan and Malaysia in a failed attempt to reach the 2018 tournament.

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FIFA says “following a security assessment by a FIFA delegation” Basra can stage games in qualifying for the 2022 edition.

Iraq hosts Hong Kong on Oct. 10, likely at the 65,000-capacity Basra Sports City stadium.

Top-ranked Iran visits on Nov. 14.

Iraq’s group in the current phase of qualifying also includes Bahrain and Cambodia.

Amid widespread pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong against China’s rule, FIFA says it is “closely monitoring the situation” ahead of the national team’s Sept. 10 qualifier against Iran.

AFC World Cup qualifying: Ex-Merseyside duo leads Australia; Uzbekistan 2-0

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Five AFC nations are unbeaten and three are perfect after two days of the third and final round of World Cup qualifying for Asia.

The top two teams in Groups A and B will win automatic qualification to Russia 2018 once 10 games have been played, with the first two in the books for all 12 teams as of Tuesday morning.

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Who’s in the catbird seat and who has a ton of work to do? Read on…

Qatar 0-1 Uzbekistan

We told you the White Wolves were not to be slept on in our World Cup surprise teams post, and manager Samvel Babayan’s side is 2-0 thanks to consecutive 1-0 victories over Syria and Qatar. While admittedly two of the must-wins inside Group A, both jobs were handled. This one came courtesy an 86th minute goal from defender Egor Krimets of Beijing Guoan in the Chinese Super League.

UAE 0-1 Australia

After a road win over Japan, United Arab Emirates were hoping to put their stamp on Group B as upstarts. Unfortunately, there’s this fella named Tim Cahill who knows how to put himself in the right places at the right times. It was an ex-Merseyside connection that did the trick, as former Liverpool man Brad Smith — now with Bournemouth — played a terrific cross into the path of Cahill, whose 48th international goal stood as the winner.

Matchday 2 results
Iraq 1-2 Saudi Arabia
China 0-0 Iran
Syria 0-0 South Korea
Thailand 0-2 Japan

Australia, Japan in Group B for Asian World Cup qualifying

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) Asian Cup champion Australia and Japan have been grouped together in the last round of Asian qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The Socceroos and Japan were drawn into Group B at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday and will be joined by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Thailand.

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Iran and South Korea were the top-seeded teams in Group A, which also includes China, Uzbekistan, 2022 World Cup host Qatar and Syria.

The teams were drawn into two groups of six, with the matches starting in September. The top two teams in each group qualify automatically, with the third-place teams playing off for a shot at an inter-continental qualifier against the fourth-place team from CONCACAF in November 2017.

The teams were seeded and drawn from six pots based on the April 7 FIFA rankings, meaning Iran and Australia – the top teams in the rankings – could not meet nor could South Korea and Japan.

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Australia is expected to open against 2007 Asian champion Iraq at home on Sept. 1 before traveling to the UAE. In October, the Australians travel to Saudi Arabia before returning for a home match against Japan, which has qualified for the last five World Cups. The Saudis reached the Round of 16 in 1994 and played in four consecutive World Cups but haven’t qualified since 2006. Also on Sept. 1, Iran opens against Qatar, South Korea hosts China, Japan is at home to UAE, Saudi Arabia takes on Thailand and Uzbekistan meets Syria.

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Japan is the only team in the group with a winning record against Australia – eight wins and eight draws in their 23 international meetings.

“If you want to make it to such a prestigious tournament, you’ve got to beat the best. I’m excited,” Australia forward Tim Cahill, who scored twice in a comeback win over Japan in his World Cup debut in 2006, told Fox Sports Australia. “This is what football is all about. We’ve done so well in the Asian Cup by winning it – this is where it’s going to separate the men from the boys. We’re ready for it. We want to play the best.”

Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said the challenging draw would hone the Socceroos ahead of its bigger target.

“As Champions of Asia we will show due respect to all countries,” he said, “but (we’re) focused on continuing our journey that has aspirations greater than simply qualifying for the World Cup.”

South Korea is growing in confidence after reaching the final of the 2015 Asian Cup, topping their second-round group with 24 unanswered goals.

“We played exceptionally well in 2015 so we’re full of confidence. I’m very optimistic that we’ll make it to Russia,” South Korea coach Uli Stielike said ahead of the draw. The South Koreans have played in nine World Cups and reached the semifinals in 2002 while co-hosting the tournament with Japan, which remains the best run by an Asian team at the sport’s marquee tournament.

The South Koreans open against China, which scraped into the last round with two late wins to maintain its hopes of reaching the World Cup for only the second time.

War-torn Syria reached the final round despite the ongoing upheaval, forcing the national team to play the entire second round away from home.

The Syrians finished behind Japan in the previous stage to progress as one of the four best second-place teams.

Redknapp punctuates 8-0 thumping of Bangladesh with weird postmatch interview (video)

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Perhaps Harry Redknapp didn’t think “media” was included in his new contract as manager of Jordan, or that he drastically underestimated the capabilities of Jordanian media.

That’s the only way to explain the former QPR manager’s post-match interview after Jordan thumped Bangladesh 8-0 on Thursday in his first match as boss.

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Redknapp, 69, took over the side as a favor for his friend Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein, the Jordanian prince who famously ran for president against Sepp Blatter in the summer and again this Spring.

The match was a World Cup qualifier, and Jordan was already en route to qualification before the win. Then came the post-match. I’d have to say my favorite parts are when Redknapp tries to leave after one question, and when he finally realizes he’s on camera.

As for the match… let’s just say Bangladesh was outclassed. Hamza Al-Dardour scored three goals in the first 40 minutes to key the rout.