Australia face tough first Asian Olympic campaign
KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 17 (Reuters) Australia face a tricky first Olympic qualifying campaign in Asia after being drawn with Iran and Saudi Arabia following a preliminary game.
The unseeded Australians must first beat Taiwan in a two-leg preliminary tie in February in order to go on to Group D.
A total of 24 teams, including the 14 seeded sides, will be divided into six groups in the second round of qualifiers for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, from February 28 to June 6 next year.
The top two from each group advance to the final round of Asian qualifiers from August 22 to November 21 to determine the three teams who will go to China.
Australia have appeared in every Olympic soccer tournament since 1988 but will be attempting to qualify for the first time since joining ditching Oceania and joining the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in January.
''It's a massive challenge and one that we will be looking forward too,'' Australia coach Graham Arnold told reporters.
''This is part of the benefit of moving to the Asian confederation.'' Jordan and Kyrgyzstan will also face each other for the right to play in Group D.
Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar are the seeded teams in Group A with Japan, Malaysia and Syria seeded in Group B.
''In terms of time difference and travel it's not such a bad group for us,'' Japan's Olympic coach Yasuharu Sorimachi said.
''We have prepared well and will look to get off to a strong start.'' Group C's seeded teams are Iran and Lebanon while Group F involves South Korea and United Arab Emirates alongside the two preliminary winners.
North Korea will also be taking part in the Olympic qualifying as one of the seeded teams in Group E alongside Iraq.
- - - Second-round qualifying groups: Group A: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Singapore or Pakistan Group B: Japan, Malaysia, Syria, Hong Kong or Bangladesh Group C: Oman, Lebanon, Vietnam or Afghanistan, Indonesia or Maldives Group D: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Kyrgyzstan, Australia or Taiwan Group E: Iraq, North Korea, Turkmenistan or Thailand, Myanmar or India Group F: South Korea, UAE, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, Yemen or Palestine (Writing by Alastair Himmer in Tokyo) REUTERS AY VC2005