July 02, 2021 11:18
A rocky road seems ahead for Korea as it will have to face tough rivals from Middle Eastern countries after the draw for the third and final round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The draw dividing 12 teams into two groups of six was held virtually in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Thursday.
Korea is now grouped with Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and the UAE while the other group consists of mostly Asian countries -- Australia, China, Japan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
It would have been easier for Korea to be grouped with the other group of countries, which are geographically closer and relatively weak.
It will be very burdensome for Korean players as they have to travel long distances for away matches and they might also need to cope with tactics to run out the clock, often seen among footballers from the Arab countries.
Head coach Paulo Bento acknowledged feeling some pressure after the draw, which leaves the Korean team to compete against "difficult" opponents. But he said, "The pressure for the coaches will be present every time, in all the moments. This is one more moment to compete and to enjoy… we'll try to do our best and achieve our goal."
Each team plays 10 home and away matches.
Korea's first match will be against Iraq on Sept. 2 at home and then it will face Lebanon in an away match on Sept. 7.
Qatar, which played until the second round, will not go through the final round as it earned an automatic berth as the host.
The top two teams from each group will advance to the World Cup. The third-placed teams will have a playoff to determine the side that will advance to the global stage.
Korea, which made its World Cup debut in 1954 in Switzerland, made nine consecutive appearances from the 1986 World Cup in Mexico to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It is aiming for its 10th consecutive World Cup appearance.
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