Japan coach Takeshi Okada has shrugged off as "not bad" the draw for the final Asian qualifing round for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, which grouped his team with top regional seeds Australia.
"It is not a bad group in view of our team's potential," Okada said in a statement after the draw in Kuala Lumpur on Friday. Japan are also lined up with Bahrain, Uzbekistan and Qatar in Group 1.
"It is also not so bad when you consider travelling, environment and other non-football aspects," said Okada, noting that Japan had already played Bahrain twice in the previous round and they had "information" on Australia.
But he warned: "There is not a single easy game in World Cup qualifying."
Japan Football Association president Saburo Kawabuchi said, "Australia are strong opponents. But we cannot determine if they are the strongest after seeing their results in the previous round."
Australia and Qatar advanced each with three wins, one draw and two losses from the same group in which Asian Cup champions Iraq and China crashed out. Asian heavyweights Korea Republic, Iran and Saudi Arabia are in Group B, along with Korea DPR and the United Arab Emirates, in what is arguably a tougher group.
Australia evoke bitter memories in Japan for their 3-1 defeat of Zico's side in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, with all the Socceroo goals coming in the last eight minutes. Japan never recovered and crashed out at the group stage. However, the Blue Samurai avenged the loss when they beat Pim Verbeek's side 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in 120 minutes in the 2007 Asian Cup quarter-finals.
Bahrain shocked Japan 1-0 in March in the previous qualifying round, putting Okada's job on the line, although Japan got their revenge in the return home fixture and finished top of the group.
"We will try not to repeat the same mistake," Okada said of the March loss. "I am convinced that we have sufficient potential to win through this qualifying round and compete in the World Cup finals," said Okada, who guided Japan to a winless FIFA World Cup™ finals debut in 1998.
Japan will travel to Manama for their final-round opener against Bahrain on 6 September.