Iran and Saudi Arabia kept apart in draw of two groups
Continental champions Australia were pooled in a formidable Group B with Saudi Arabia, Japan and the UAE in the draw for the final Asian round of 2018 World Cup qualifying.
Joining the quartet in the six nation group, where only the top two sides are guaranteed of a place at the finals in Russia, were 2007 Asian champions Iraq and fast-improving Thailand.
Group A was headlined by consistent qualifiers South Korea and Asia's top ranked team Iran, who both represented the continent at the last World Cup in Brazil along with Australia and Japan.
China, who have qualified for just one World Cup in 2002 and scraped through to this round, were also pooled in Group A alongside three sides who have yet to reach a finals - Syria, 2022 hosts Qatar and Uzbekistan.
The group stages will conclude in Sept. 2017 with the top two from each pool qualifying and the two third-placed sides playing each other.
The winners of that playoff then advance to a two-legged inter-confederation clash with a CONCACAF qualifier for another spot in Russia.
Iran and South Korea, who will be favourites to progress to another World Cup, endure frosty soccer relations after clashing in qualifying four years ago.
Korea complained about inadequate training facilities in Tehran, with then-coach Choi Kang-hee saying he would enjoy eliminating Iran from the race to Brazil only for the Iranians to win in Seoul in the return and top the group.
That result sparked ugly scenes on the sidelines as Iran coach Carlos Queiroz and his assistants celebrated by rushing towards the Korean bench and gesturing wildly.
It will be the third consecutive World Cup campaign that Korea and Iran have faced off in, with Japan and Australia also making it a trilogy of meetings.
Japan have played at the last five World Cups and finished ahead of Australia in 2014 qualifying but the Socceroos came out top in the 2010 campaign.
Saudi Arabia, who made the last of their four World Cup appearances in 2006, took four points from the UAE in the previous round and have shown signs of progress under Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk.
But Australia coach Ange Postecoglou was confident his side, who will start on Sept. 1 with a home clash against Iraq, would play in Russia.
"As champions of Asia we will show due respect to all countries but focused on continuing our journey that has aspirations greater than simply qualifying for the World Cup," he said in a statement.
United Arab Emirates
ThailandFor all the latest lifestyle news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.