An old rivalry will resume in the final round of Asian qualifying for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, after Athens 2004 semi-finalists Iraq were pitted against Korea DPR at Wednesday’s draw ceremony. Joining the long-time adversaries in Group A were Lebanon and Australia, who booked their passage courtesy of a second-placed finish behind group winners Saudi Arabia in the previous phase.
Having progressed to the final round from the same pool, Korea Republic will again compete with Uzbekistan for tickets to Beijing, with Western Asian sides Syria and Bahrain making up their section. Japan, the only team with a perfect record during the six-game second phase, were matched against a formidable Saudi Arabia side in a group that also features Qatar and Vietnam.
The concluding phase will run from 22 August to 21 November, and with only the three group winners joining hosts China at Beijing 2008, the competition is sure to be intense.
Iraq’s testing campaign will begin against Australia, before an encounter with Lebanon in their second outing on 8 September. However, their toughest challenge will come when they lock horns with Korea DPR in two back-to-back games, and if recent history is anything to go by, the results between the two sides could prove crucial to determining the tide of the group.
For their part, Australia will be determined to outmuscle Iraq and Korea DPR and make top spot in the section their own. Stunned by two draws against Iran and Jordan in the opening two games in the previous round, the young Socceroos fought back with a 2-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in the third match. Following a 2-1 upset at the hands of the same opponents, they beat Iran in the penultimate match and capped their qualification thanks to a resounding 4-0 reverse of Jordan.
Japan, whose bronze medal finish at Mexico 1968 remains the best ever result for any Asian team in the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, will doubtlessly be among the favorites to advance to Beijing. However, Qatar and Vietnam have both made strides of late and will be quietly confident of staging an upset.
At the last stage, Qatar clinched a hard-fought second place behind Bahrain in a group that also featured Kuwait and Pakistan. They drew 1-1 against a highly fancied Kuwait team in their penultimate match, before a 7-0 triumph over Pakistan powered them through to the final round.
Vietnam, despite a lack of big tournament experience, are not a side to underestimate, something they underlined by pipping Lebanon, Oman and Indonesia to a berth in the last 12. Having guided the team this far, Vietnam’s Austrian coach Alfred Riedl has promised his side will be doing everything they can to put smiles of their supporters’ faces. "It may be unrealistic to count on good results against the likes of Japan and Saudi Arabia," he told FIFA.com. "However, we will do the utmost to pull off victories for our supporters because they deserve such results."
Final round groups:
22 August -21 November 2007
Group A - Iraq, Korea DPR, Lebanon, Australia
Group B - Korea Republic, Bahrain, Syria, Uzbekistan
Group C - Japan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Qatar