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So last night, the Asian Football Confederation completed the draw for the first combined World Cup and Asian Cup qualification.
Now I’m going to look at each group and how I think it will pan out.
Group A – United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Timor Leste and Malaysia
It’s a very tough draw for Timor Leste (or East Timor as many people know it) and Malaysia. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia will be fighting it out for top spot in this group and everyone else will be fighting for the scraps. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation did what I am told is a fascinating piece about Palestine getting to the 2015 Asian Cup on Foreign Correspondent last night – being in China, I am unable to watch it but I’ve provided a link to ABC’s iview for other people to watch it. My pick for this group is for the United Arab Emirates to win this group and Saudi to finish second – both will go through to the 3rd round of World Cup qualification.
Group B – Australian, Jordan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Bangladesh
In terms of finding flights for fans, this is probably the worst group that Australia could have wanted. Having said that, these are apparently the visa requirements for Jordan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Bangladesh – but check with someone more official first. Visa and travel issues aside, I cannot see any problems for Australia here with the exception of Jordan. They are no slouches as we have seen in the past. I can see Australia winning the group and Jordan should finish second. Jordan should go through as a top 4 runner up.
Group C – China, Qatar, the Maldives, Bhutan and Hong Kong
A lot of Australian fans were praying for this group early on as the draw started, including me. Being able to watch the Socceroos in Hong Kong would have been a dream come true for me. However, getting China is just as good, if not better. Having spoken to Football in HK, a English media platform on football in Hong Kong, there is some concern about the national stadium for the games against China and Qatar. Apparently they are sorting out drainage for the Rugby 7s next year. Aside from that, Bhutan could actually qualify for the 3rd round of Asian Cup qualification from this group. I’ve already decided that I’m hopping the border for Hong Kong vs Bhutan on Thursday June 11 and if possible, I’ll go back for Hong Hong vs Maldives on Tuesday June 16 – it depends on my school schedule. The location for the Chinese home games make those games more difficult to attend but I will wait and see. China and Qatar will qualify out of the group – it’s a split decision as to which one will top the group.
Group D – Iran, Oman, India, Turkmenistan and Guam
This group is going to be fought out between Iran and Oman. I really can’t see India doing a lot in this group and I would expect Guam to be knocked out of the tournament at this point. I don’t know enough about Turkmenistan to make an accurate assessment at this point. Iran and Oman will both qualify out of this group, Iran in 1st and Oman as one of the 4 best runners up.
Group E – Japan, Syria, Afghanistan, Singapore and Cambodia
The Blue Samurai have got to be happy with their group. Yes, that is two trips to what are technically war zones but from what I have gathered, the game in Singapore could have a lot of support for the Japanese. I’m not sure if Cambodia could stay in the competition at this point, but if they manage to sneak through at this point, good luck to them. Japan will be the only nation to qualify straight through out of this group.
Group F – Iraq, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Chinese Taipei
As this group formed, Australians were praying for this group as well. It would have been the easiest group for travel for Australian fans, as well as for fans in those countries to come to Australia. However, Iraq have a dreadful time with the away games, traveling across the continent and playing in conditions so different from what they are used to. I still expect Iraq to top the group as they will win at home and probably park the bus away. It would not surprise me if Thailand finish second in the group but they won’t be a highly placed second.
Group G – South Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Myanmar and Laos
This is a cake walk for South Korea. Yes, they still need to travel to Kuwait and Lebanon, but it is still one of the best squads in all of Asia. Kuwait has had a squad that has been together for a long time but I just cannot see them doing enough damage to be one of the four best runner ups. Myanmar and Laos will be interesting for the football hipsters but Myanmar will suffer for not being able to play any games at home – I am told that they have been penalised for their fans throwing things onto the pitch during a match. These fixtures are said to be played in South Korea instead. South Korea will qualify from this group.
Group H – Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Philippines, North Korea and Yemen
Bahrain will fancy themselves in this group, given the short trips to Yemen and Uzbekistan. However, I cannot see them getting past a well drilled Uzbekistan side who have continued to perform well in international fixtures over many years. The Philippines were unlucky to not make the 2015 Asian Cup, as they were defeated by Palestine in the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup Final – they could be one of the best 3rd place finishers in the tournament. Yemen only played one fixture to qualify for this and to be honest, they probably would have held on against Pakistan in Lahore in the second leg anyway. Uzbekistan will qualify from this group.
The 12 nations to go through to the third round of World Cup qualification and automatically qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup are:
- United Arab Emirates,
- Saudi Arabia,
- South Korea; and
Leave your comments and let me know what you think.