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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Dec 18, 2006

Australia in spotlight at Asian Cup finals draw

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 18 (Reuters) - All eyes will be on debutants Australia when the draw for next year's Asian Cup finals is held amid much glitz and fanfare at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre on Tuesday.

The seedings for the 16-team finals, jointly hosted from July 7-29 by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, will be finalised on Tuesday morning, just hours before the draw is made.

It has been a bumpy ride for organisers but everything appears to be coming together at the right time, the final piece of the jigsaw being Iran's green light to compete after FIFA lifted a ban on the Iranian federation at the 11th hour.

'We are very happy with the situation,' Iran Football Federation official Abbas Torabian told Reuters on Monday.

Only 12 of the 16 sides need to be drawn into the four groups because the host teams automatically enjoy home advantage.

Australia will be the centre of attention as well as controversy, especially among absent friends.

The Socceroos were welcomed with open arms into the AFC fold this year but have recently fallen foul of Kuwaiti officials, who at the Asian Games in Doha called for Australia's expulsion from the confederation.

Kuwait were denied a place in the finals by Australia, who finished top of their qualifying Group D, which was reduced to three teams after Lebanon withdrew for political reasons.

Australia have a great chance of being seeded as the AFC juggles with FIFA rankings and recent performances in their quest to formulate a fair system.

According to the FIFA rankings, Iran (38), Australia (39), Uzbekistan (45) and defending champions Japan (47) occupy the top four positions in Asia.

Australia were the most successful of the five Asian teams at the World Cup in Germany, reaching the last 16, while Japan, South Korea (51), Iran and Saudi Arabia (64) failed to advance past the preliminary groups.

In the qualifying competition, Japan advanced from Group A along with the Saudis while Iran and South Korea emerged from Group B.

Group C was topped by United Arab Emirates and Oman and Australia were joined from Group D by Bahrain.

Asian Games winners Qatar and Uzbekistan qualified from Group F and Iraq and China were the top team teams in Group E.

The format for the finals remains unchanged. After the preliminary round-robin competition, the top two teams from each group advance to the quarter-finals, with each host country staging one match.

The two semi-finals will be held in Hanoi and Kuala Lumpur and the Indonesian capital of Jakarta will host the final. Bangkok will stage the opening ceremony.

The draw on Tuesday represents the first major milestone for the AFC, which ensured a logistical nightmare by agreeing to allow four countries to host the finals.

The organisational abilities of Thailand and Malaysia have come under close scrutiny and it was only last week that Malaysia Tourism, which had previously shown apathy towards the event, agreed to give it priority over a possible tour of the region by English Premier League leaders Manchester United.

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