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Japan face N.Korea, China v S.Korea in World Cup qualifiers

Japan will face North Korea in the second round of Asian World Cup qualifying after being drawn in the same group Thursday, while China were paired with Jurgen Klinsmann’s South Korea.

The 2026 World Cup will be held in Canada, Mexico and the United States and have 48 teams for the first time.

Games in the second round will take place between this November and June 2024 and teams will play each other home and away.

The winners and runners-up from the nine groups will go into the decisive third round of Asian qualifying for 2026.

Those 18 teams will also go straight into the 2027 Asian Cup, being held in Saudi Arabia.

The region’s minnows will play the first round of Asian qualifying in October. 

Japan are Asia’s best team at 20th in the world rankings and reached the last 16 of the Qatar World Cup last year, beating Spain and Germany on the way, before going out to Croatia.

They should have way too much for a North Korean team ranked 115th.

China have ambitions of becoming a footballing superpower but they have reached the World Cup only once and also face a tough task in the form of a South Korea side led by coach Klinsmann and captain Son Heung-min.

After the draw at Asian Football Confederation headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Windsor John, the secretary-general, called the draw “a good spread of different regions”.

“The matches that you think will be exciting may end up not being exciting, and the matches that you think are insignificant may end up being key matches,” he told AFP.

Asian round two qualifying groups for the 2026 World Cup:

Group A: Qatar, India, Kuwait, Afghanistan/Mongolia 

Group B: Japan, Syria, North Korea, Myanmar/Macau 

Group C: South Korea, China, Thailand, Singapore/Guam 

Group D: Oman, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Taiwan/Timor-Leste

Group E: Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Hong Kong/Bhutan

Group F: Iraq, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia/Brunei 

Group G: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tajikistan, Cambodia/Pakistan

Group H: United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen/Sri Lanka, Nepal/Laos 

Group I: Australia, Palestine, Lebanon, Maldives/Bangladesh

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