Qatar have been placed in Group A along with Asian powerhouses South Korea and Iran in the draw for the final phase of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
China, Uzbekistan and Syria complete the line-up in Group A, while Group B consists of Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq and Thailand.
The top two in each group will qualify for the World Cup in Russia, while two third-placed sides will face each other for the right to contest an intercontinental play-off.
Qatar coach Jose Daniel Carreno said his squad won’t be intimidated by the prospect of facing some of the strongest teams in Asia in the third and final phase of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.
“We have to remain optimistic about the coming matches. We will be ready for the opening clash against Iran,” Carreno said yesterday after the draws were made.
“Two of Asia’s top teams Iran and South Korea are in our group. This group is open because we have shown great form in the last few months. Having said that, we will try our best to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.”
The Uruguayan added that the entire Qatar football set-up was totally focused on the task ahead.
“Our focus is on the third and final stage of qualifying. Myself and the players in collaboration with the backroom staff are fully focused on the job at hand. We have been playing well as a team and there is spirit within my camp. The results we have achieved in the last few months are a proof of that,” he said.
Qatar won seven of the eight matches they played in the last qualifying campaign.
“We have a well charted out schedule of training and matches in the coming weeks. Our target is going to be playing to win,” he said.
Qatar Football Association (QFA) Secretary General Mansoor al-Ansari also said he was confident the team would qualify for Japan 2018.
“Nobody can say it is an easy group but a balanced one. Asia’s best teams have qualified for this stage,” al-Ansari said “We are going according to a plan. We are confident of implementing
our plans whether we are playing against Iran in Iran or any other side on any venue.
“Our target is to reach the 2018 FIFA World Cup and we are doing everything we can. We will be ready to play against any team in our group.”
Australia coach Ange Postecoglou told AFP that all the games will be “challenging”, especially with Japan.
“All the games are going to be challenging. We will be playing against Japan. It will be tough,” he said.
“But I am sure we will be ready for it,” he added.
Iran’s highly-regarded Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz predicted South Korea, Japan and Australia would qualify for the World Cup in Russia.
“South Korea, Japan and Australia will go to the World Cup. The last one spot will be fought by Iran, China and Uzbekistan,” he said. Queiroz said travelling long jouneys on commercial flights would take a toll on his players.
“Besides needing good preparations you need resources like having shorter air travel time for the players,” he said.
Queiroz said playing against China in particular would be difficult and the team was making huge improvements.
“South Korea is very strong and we have Qatar too. We have a complete new team. They are young and talented but no experience,” he said.
Russia 2018 represents Qatar’s last chance to qualify for a World Cup on merit before automatically playing as hosts in 2022.
“It is going to be very difficult for Thailand. They are in a tough group,” David Mitchell, former Australian striker told AFP.
The qualifying matches begin in September 2016 and conclude September 2017.
Group A: Iran, South Korea, Uzbekistan, China, Qatar, Syria
Group B: Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Thailand
Windsor John, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) General Secretary, displays Qatar’s name during the official draw for the final round of the 2018 World Cup football Asian qualifiers in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.