Although they are entering the Asian preliminaries for the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time, Australia have been handed a No1 seed which has left them in a good position to qualify for the fourth stage of the competition. The Aussies already tasted a bit of AFC competition in July, when they reached the quarter-finals of the AFC Asian Cup. Despite the fact that the Socceroos were eliminated at the hands of Japan at that stage, this will be a good opportunity for them to make up for the disappointment in the summer.

However, Iraq, who defeated the Australians 3-1 to top the group and went on to be crowned the new Asian champions, are out to produce another big surprise in the campaign. With their new coach Egil Olsen, who led Norway to USA 1994 and France 1998, it would be unwise to underestimate the Iraqis in this tough-looking group. For their part, China PR are keen to redeem themselves after narrowly missing a place in the third qualifying stage for Germany 2006, while Qatar will be hoping to progress a step further than they did last time round.

The favourites
Australia: If their last eight finish in this year's Asian Cup was just a warm-up, the Socceroos will face the first real test against their new neighbours in the preliminary campaign next year. And the newcomers from Down Under will be taking nothing for granted until they have got the job done.

The outsiders
China PR: Despite their early exit in the qualifying round for Germany 2006, China PR have shown impressive improvements in recent years and will be aiming at their second appearance in world football's showpiece event after their Korea/Japan 2002 participation.

Iraq: The West Asians have been the talk of the continent this year with their fairy tale run to the Asian Cup trophy, and they are set to keep up the momentum to this qualifying round. In fact, it would be fair to say that the Iraqis are no more underdogs given the performances they have shown during the Asian Cup.

The players to watch
Tim Cahill (AUS), Harry Kewell (AUS), Mark Schwarzer (AUS), Zheng Zhi (CHN), Shao Jiayi (CHN), Younis Mahmoud (IRQ), Hussain Abdulrahman (QAT).

The crunch match
Australia - Iraq. The Socceroos were stunned by the Iraqis with a 3-1 defeat in the group stage of the Asian Cup 2007. That was a rude awakening for the Australians, who were widely tipped to win the championship in their first attempt. This gives them the ideal opportunity to take revenge.

A look back
China PR 0-2 Austalia, 24 March 2007, Guangzhou. In the latest encounter between the oldest footballing nation and the newest addition to the continent, the Aussies beat the hosts 2-0 at Yuexiushan Sport Stadium in Guangzhou. Including this result, Australia have won five times, drawn once, and lost once in their previous seven meetings with China PR.

The stat
27, Iraq hold the Asian record for having scored in 27 consecutive matches between 1989 and 2001.

Did you know?
China PR are the Asian team with the best win percentage in FIFA World Cup preliminary tournaments thanks to 52 victories out of 76 matches for total of 68 per cent. A current home winning streak totalling 12 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches has included eight games without conceding a goal.

The question
Can Australia beat Asian champions Iraq this time round and top this group? Click below to 'Add your comment'.