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With the overnight announcement that the United Arab Emirates will be the host of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, I thought this would be a good opportunity to look ahead to see how qualification happens.

Due to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup being a 24 team tournament, the qualification steps are also combined with 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification. The steps are listed in this Wikipedia entry which makes it pretty clear.

What I particulary want to show is the current state of play when it comes to the potential seedings and groups.

I looked at the current rankings (February 2015) and this is what I came up.

Number Pool A Pool B Pool C Pool D Pool E
1 Iran Iraq Vietnam Syria Laos
2 South Korea Jordan Philippines Kyrgyzstan Guam
3 Japan Saudi Arabia Maldives North Korea Winner of India v Nepal
4 Australia Bahrain Tajikistan Malaysia Winner of Yemen v Pakistan
5 United Arab Emirates Qatar Myanmar Singapore Winner of East Timor v Mongolia
6 Uzbekistan Lebanon Thailand Bangladesh Winner of Cambodia v Macau
7 China Palestine Afghanistan Indonesia Winner of Taiwan v Brunei
8 Oman Kuwait Turkmenistan Hong Kong Winner of Sri Lanka v Bhutan

As you can see, Australia would miss a number of tough teams but could find some challenges in Pool B.

With this in mind, I used an 8-sided dice to work out some groups – I’m not aware of any political games preventing countries from playing each other like there are in Europe but keep in mind this was my simulation.

Group A

A1, B5, C7, D8, E1 – Iran, Qatar, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Laos.

Iran had an excellent Asian Cup and could be fantastic. Qatar has been up and down for years but could cause some surprises. I’ve got no idea about Afghanistan but having these four teams on my doorstep (I live just over the border from Hong Kong) means that the opportunity to see 4 international fixtures just hours away from my home is very exciting for me. Iran and Qatar as automatic qualifiers.

Group B

A3, B3, C3, D2, E6 – Japan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Kyrgyzstan and the winner of Cambodia vs Macau

IF (and it’s a huge if) Macau was to defeat Cambodia over two legs (they play in Cambodia on Thursday and the return leg is this time next week), this could be a very interesting set of fixtures very close to me as well. Japan were fantastic in the Asian Cup and Saudi Arabia desperately need to improve. The Maldives have hosted a few qualifying tournaments recently which explains their high seeding but the question is whether or not they can go far in the tournament. Japan as automatic qualifiers.

Group C

A4, B6, C2, D7, E4 – Australia, Lebanon, the Philippines, Indonesia and the winner of Yemen vs Pakistan

This is Australia’s group and Ange Postecoglou would be thrilled with this group should it come to fruition, as would many traveling fans. A game in Indonesia would have thousands of Australians at it, given the cheap flights, and even the Philippines could see expats fly in from all over for that one. Lebanon is a potential banana skin but I can’t see many traveling fans going to either Yemen or Pakistan. Australia as automatic qualifiers.

Group D

A7, B1, C5, D5, E5 – China, Iraq, Myanmar, Singapore and winner of East Timor vs Mongolia

The big matches in this group will be between China and Iraq (which I sincerely hope will be held in southern China) and between Myanmar and Singapore (which I might travel to). China and Iraq will battle for top position in this group and I expect both to qualify for the 3rd round of AFC World Cup Qualifiers. China and Iraq as automatic qualifiers.

Group E

A2, B7, C6, D1, E3 – South Korea, Palestine, Thailand, Syria and winner of India vs Nepal

South Korea will walk through this group easily. I cannot see anyone else in this group automatically qualifying for the Asian Cup in 2nd place in the group. I feel that Thailand will finish second in the group but not well enough. South Korea as automatic qualifiers.

Group F

A8, B4, C1, D3, E7 – Oman, Bahrain, Vietnam, North Korea and winner of Taiwan vs Brunei

Oman and Bahrain will do their normal thing of doing well in this stage of qualifying. It’s going to be here where North Korea are finally proved to be a poor football team, although if they start playing regular international football, they may improve dramatically. Oman and Bahrain as automatic qualifiers.

Group G

A6, B2, C8, D6, E8 – Uzbekistan, Jordan, Turkmenistan, Bangladesh and winner of Sri Lanka vs Bhutan

Okay, I’m going to give you a sure thing. Sri Lanka will qualify INTO this group – Bhutan have not have a ranking point for the last five years, so go and put some money on that. Secondly, the match of the group will be between Uzbekistan and Jordan – both of whom played good games during the Asian Cup and I feel do have the opportunity to rise further up the rankings. Jordan got nailed by Uruguay in the inter-confederation play-offs in 2013 (much like New Zealand got nailed by Mexico), but Jordan are by no means a bad team. Similarly, Uzbekistan are no slouchs so I expect those games to be fantastic. Uzbekistan and Jordan as automatic qualifiers.

Group H

A5, B8, C4, D4, C2 – United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Tajikistan, Malaysia and Guam.

My numerous Kuwaiti readers will be disappointed if they are doing the maths when they realised that I have allocated 11 of 12 automatic qualifying positions by the time I got to their group. Kuwait have been a good team but I found them disappointing at the Asian Cup and in my opinion, they will finish second in the group, but probably 5th of the 2nd placed teams. United Arab Emirates as automatic qualifiers.

What does this mean?

Well, the 12 teams that automatically qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates AND go into the 2 groups of 6 for the third round of FIFA World Cup qualifying are (in order of appearance in their group):

  • Iran (winner of Group A)
  • Qatar (runner up of Group A)
  • Japan (winner of Group B)
  • Australia (winner of Group C)
  • China (winner of Group D)
  • Iraq (runner up of Group D)
  • South Korea (winner of Group E)
  • Oman (winner of Group F)
  • Bahrain (runner up of Group F)
  • Uzbekistan (winner of Group G)
  • Jordan (runner up of Group G)
  • United Arab Emirates (winner of Group H)

Kuwait is probably the harshest done by of the runner ups. I think the 3 seeds will be very interesting to watch.

A side note – the 4 worst performing last places in this stage get eliminated from potential Asian Cup qualification. This means that under my scenario, 24 teams will compete for 12 spots at UAE 2019.

I’m intrigued to know what you think – let me know what you think in the comments below.