By Ben Somerford | Asian Football Editor
It's strange to think that more than two years out from Brazil 2014, we're already into the final round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Asia, but that's the case. And on Friday afternoon in Kuala Lumpur, the draw for the fourth and final round of qualifiers was decided.
So with 10 teams remaining, the countries have been divided into two groups of five, with the top two sides to automatically qualify for Brazil 2014. Meanwhile the two third-placed nations meet in a play-off for the right to face the fifth-placed Conmebol nation in an inter-continental qualifier.
With the seeds based on Fifa rankings, there was always going to be an added element to the draw with Australia and South Korea the top two, while 2011 Asian Cup winners Japan were in Pot 2. As well, with the presence of a host of West Asian sides, travel was going to be a noteworthy factor.
Following Friday's draw, Goal.com has decided to analyse the two groups, although it's worth noting there doesn't appear to be any so-called 'Group of Death'.
South Korea are the favourites to progress through Group A, however they face four long trips to the other side of the continent which will no doubt be a huge challenge. Korea boss Choi Kang-Hee previously spoke about preferring to take on Japan rather than Iran due to the hostile away trip they'd face.
The Taeguk Warriors' biggest rivals for progress will be Carlos Queiroz's Iran and 2011 Asian Cup semi-finalists Uzbekistan, with the latter topping their third round group ahead of Japan. It's been a strange period in recent times for Iranian football and a failure to qualify for the 2014 event would have major repercussions although their Portuguese boss has offered reason for optimism. Meanwhile, the White Wolves have never qualified for a World Cup but this group offers them a great chance, although they were ordinary at this stage four years ago.
Those three sides will lay legitimate claims to the two automatic spots, while it's hard to see Qatar or Lebanon posing much threat, despite the latter's gripping run to this stage of qualifying.
Editor's prediction; 1. South Korea, 2. Iran, 3. Uzbekistan
The Socceroos and Samurai Blue can resume their rivalry which stems all the way back to the 2006 World Cup when Australia piled on three late goals to beat the Japanese. Their most recent encounter saw Japan winning the 2011 Asian Cup in extra-time over the Socceroos. It's hard to look past these two nations for the automatic spots.
However, Iraq and Jordan are dark horses having both made the 2011 Asian Cup quarter-finals and having both dominated Group A in the third round. Adnan Hamad has done a stellar job in charge of Al Nashama since taking over in 2009, with their 2011 Asian Cup run a sign of their improvement.
Meanwhile, the Lions of Mesopotamia, who won the 2007 Asian Cup, were narrowly knocked out of the 2011 edition by the Socceroos in extra-time and it's no fait accompli between these two. Paul Le Guen's Oman are the big underdogs, and while they have an exciting young squad, they did only score three goals from six games in third round qualifying to somehow squeeze through.
Editor's prediction; 1. Japan, 2. Australia, 3. Jordan
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