Qatar top seeds over Aus and Japan

Asian Cup hosts are no1 seeds with World Cup-bound Japan and Australia fifth and sixth

    Australia drew with Qatar in Doha last summer to reach the World Cup [GALLO/GETTY]

    World Cup-bound Australia and Japan have failed to secure top seeding at next year's Asian Cup even though they are the highest-ranked teams in the region.

    The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) named host nation Qatar, ranked 97th in the world, as the surprise top seeds while Japan were fifth and Australia sixth ahead of Friday's draw for the finals.

    "We see no reason to follow (world governing body) Fifa rankings," AFC spokesman Ali Al-Hamdani said on Thursday.

    "Seedings for the 2007 event were based on Fifa rankings so as to accommodate Australia, who were making their debut in the competition after moving across from Oceania to Asia.

    "The 2007 system was a one-off to make it fair on other teams following the arrival of Australia."

    With Australia, ranked 19th in the world, now an established force in the continent, the AFC has based the seedings for the January 7-29 event according to results in previous tournaments.

    Champions Iraq, who had their international suspension lifted by Fifa last month, 2007 runners-up Saudi Arabia and South Korea make up the rest of the top four seeds.

    As a result of the seedings, South Korea could face a showdown with bitter rivals North Korea in the group stages.

    Big stage

    The 16 nations will be placed into four pools of four in the draw, which takes place on Friday at Doha's Aspire Dome, which is the biggest indoor sports arena in the world.

    Drawing pots

    Pot 1
    Qatar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, South Korea

    Pot 2
    Japan, Australia, Iran, Uzbekistan

    Pot 3
    China, UAE, Bahrain, Jordan

    Pot 4
     Syria, Kuwait, India, North Korea

    While most teams will be eager to find out which groups they have been drawn in, Qatar organisers face a race against time to fill the stadiums during the state's largest international sporting event since the 2006 Asian Games, when many seats were empty.

    Organisers say they can guarantee full houses at the five designated stadiums, which they hope will strengthen their chances of winning the bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

    The tournament itself comes too late, with the bidding process ending in December this year.

    "Of course, the successful planning of the Asian Cup will have a major bearing on our World Cup bid," Qatar organising committee chief executive Saud Al Mohannadi said.

    "Preparations are in full swing. We will be targeting both domestic and expat fans. We expect 70 per cent of fans to be expats based and working in the region."

    Fears have been raised that Doha's expensive hotel rates could put off travelling fans.

    But Mohannadi said special accommodation rates and packages together with relaxed visa rules and ticketing – which will be announced after the World Cup in South Africa in June – would make the tournament affordable.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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