TOKYO (AP) – Japan faces a challenging qualifying path to the 2014 World Cup finals against rivals who will be looking to upset the Asian champions.
Alberto Zaccheroni's team was drawn Saturday with Uzbekistan, Syria and North Korea in Group C of the third round of Asian qualifying. The Blue Samurai will be bidding for their fifth straight appearance in the World Cup finals.
''This is World Cup qualifying so our opponents will be really up for it,'' Japan Football Association technical director Hiromi Hara said. ''We just have to try and pick up points from each of our matches.''
Japan has played in every World Cup finals since France '98. and reached the second round at last summer's tournament in South Africa under Takeshi Okada.
Japan, which has yet to lose in the 10 games Zaccheroni has been in charge, is the highest ranked team of the four at 16th.
The top two teams in each of the five Asian qualifying groups will advance to the fourth round of Asian qualifiers.
The 10 teams in the fourth round will be divided into two groups of five with the top two teams from each group qualifying for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.
Japan will tune up for the World Cup qualifiers with a friendly against South Korea on Aug. 10 in Sapporo.
Japan won its fourth Asian Cup in January in Qatar by beating Australia 1-0 after extra time.