KUALA LUMPUR • Continental champions Australia were pooled in a formidable Group B with Saudi Arabia, Japan and the United Arab Emirates in the draw for the final Asian round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup yesterday.
Joining the quartet in the six-nation group, with only the top two sides guaranteed of a place at the finals in Russia, were 2007 Asian champions Iraq and Thailand.
Group A was headlined by consistent qualifiers South Korea and Asia's top-ranked team Iran, both of which represented the continent at the last World Cup in Brazil along with Australia and Japan.
China, who have qualified for just one World Cup in 2002, were also pooled in Group A alongside three sides who have yet to reach a finals - Syria, 2022 hosts Qatar and Uzbekistan.
The group stages will conclude in Sept 2017 with the top two from each pool qualifying and the two third-placed sides playing each other. The winners of that play-off then advance to a two-legged inter-confederation clash with a Concacaf qualifier for a spot in Russia.
2018 World Cup Asian third-round qualifiers
Group A: Iran, South Korea, Uzbekistan, China, Qatar and Syria
Group B: Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates,
Iran and South Korea, who will be favourites to progress to another World Cup, endure frosty football relations after clashing in qualifying four years ago.
Korea complained about inadequate training facilities in Teheran, with then-coach Choi Kang Hee saying he would enjoy eliminating Iran from the race to Brazil only for the Iranians to win the return tie in Seoul to top the group.
The result sparked ugly scenes on the sidelines as Iran coach Carlos Queiroz and his assistants celebrated by rushing towards the Korean bench and gesturing wildly.
It will be the third consecutive World Cup campaign that Korea and Iran have faced off in, with Japan and Australia also making it a trilogy of meetings.