Football: Singapore drawn with Japan for 2018 World Cup qualifiers

SINGAPORE were drawn together with Asian giants Japan in Group E of the second round of the 2018 Fifa World Cup Asian Football Confederation (AFC) qualifiers during a ceremony at the JW Marriott Hotel in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

The other Group E nations are Cambodia, Syria and Afghanistan.

The last time that Singapore faced the Samurai Blue was in 2004, in the World Cup qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Japan beat the Lions 2-1 at Jalan Besar and also won the return leg 1-0.

Forty teams from the AFC were split into eight groups of five, with the eight group winners and four best second-placed teams progressing to the final round of the World Cup qualifiers, as well as the 2019 Asian Cup finals in United Arab Emirates.

The remaining 28 teams will see their 2018 World Cup hopes extinguished, but will have another chance to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup as the next 16 highest-placed teams will advance to the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers.

If the Singapore national team are to stand any chance of qualifying for the World Cup finals in Russia, they will have to arrest a dismal run of form that has seen the Lions draw 2-2 against Guam and lose 2-0 to Thailand last month's international friendly matches.

Singapore's World Cup qualifying campaign will also clash with the SEA Games which will be held from June 5-16. This will mean that coach Bernd Stange will have to make do without a few of his key players for the two opening matches against Cambodia (away) and Japan, as the likes of Faris Ramli, Shakir Hamzah, Shahfiq Ghani and Al-Qaasimy Rahman will represent the Singapore Under-23 instead.

The second round of the World Cup qualifiers will take place from June 11 to March 29 next year, with each nation playing home and away matches in a round-robin format.

Draw for 2018 World Cup AFC qualifiers - Group A: UAE, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Timor Leste, Malaysia. Group B: Australia, Jordan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh. Group C: China, Qatar, Maldives, Bhutan, Hong Kong. Group D: Iran, Oman, India, Turkmenistan, Guam. Group E: Japan, Syria, Afghanistan, Singapore, Cambodia. Group F: Iraq, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Chinese Taipei. Group G: South Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Myanmar, Laos. Group H: Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Philippines, North Korea, Yemen.