April 14, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) Asian Cup champion Australia has been drawn in a far-flung qualifying group to start a long journey toward the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Australia will play Jordan, a 7,500-mile trip, plus Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and its nearest opponent Bangladesh, a 4,350-mile journey, in the first Asian group stage.

Japan was grouped with Syria, Afghanistan, Singapore and Cambodia. For security reasons, FIFA has ruled that Syria and Afghanistan will play home matches in neutral countries.

The Asian Football Confederation drew eight five-team groups Tuesday that will play matches from June until March. Group winners and the four best runners-up advance to the next group stage.

Bhutan, a surprise winner in the first Asian qualifying round, was grouped with China, Qatar, Maldives and Hong Kong.

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