Koreas paired in Asian qualifying

North and South Korea have been drawn in the same group for the World Cup qualifiers.

     The top table: FIFA President Sepp Blatter (C), FIFA Acting Director of Communications
    Andreas Herren (R) and South African Local Organising Committee Director of Communications
    Tim Modise [GALLO/GETTY]

    Football and politics are set for an almighty clash as North and South Korea were drawn together in Asian Confederation's qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

    In what is likely to be labelled the "Group of Death", after reading as the toughest of the five groups on paper, Group One includes Australia, China, Qatar and Iraq.

    Australia reached the second round of the World Cup last year and has since switched from Oceania to the Asian confederation.

    Iraq won the Asian Cup in July and China is also considered a favorite to advance to the next round.

    But Group Three is the one which will grab all the headlines after the two Korea's were drawn together.

    The two countries fought the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, which means that the sides are still technically at war.

    Their relations have warmed significantly since the first-ever summit in 2000, although the reconciliation process has often been overshadowed by the standoff over the North's nuclear weapons programs.

    Jordan and Turkmenistan complete the group.

    Forty-three nations entered qualifying for Asia, vying for four automatic qualifying spots and a playoff place with the winner from Oceania.

    After the first stages, that number was reduced to 20 teams going into four pots on Sunday to set up the five groups.

    The top two of each group will advance to the next stage, where two groups of five teams will be set up.

    Japan heads an easy Group Two with Bahrain, Oman and Thailand.

    Saudi Arabia is in Group Four with Uzbekistan, Lebanon, and Singapore, and Group Five has a Middle Eastern feel with Iran, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Syria.

    "We have a good group to qualify," said Iran star Ali Daei, who help draw the groups.

    From the next stage, the top two of each group qualify directly for the tournament in South Africa, with the fifth-best overall team then going into the playoff.

    After South Korea reached the semifinals at the 2002 World Cup it co-hosted, no Asian team reached the second round in Germany last year.

    Qualifying groups

    Group One: Australia, China, Iraq, Qatar

    Group Two: Japan, Bahrain, Oman, Thailand

    Group Three: South Korea, North Korea, Jordan, Turkmenistan

    Group Four: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, Singapore

    Group Five: Iran, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Syria

    SOURCE: Agencies


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