2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers: Asia’s Finest Drawn into Groups
The third and final round of Asia's World Cup qualifying tournament begins in September 2021. The twelve squads heading to the Autumn competition, who advanced from the second round held in June, were recently drawn into two groups for the concluding segment. The two groups of six see some familiar foes paired up and introduce some final round debutants into the mix. The upcoming event should throw up some fierce battles for the coveted qualifying spots.
The Competition To Date
Forty-six national teams from across Asia signed up for the 2022 qualifying competition, with the initial round kicking off in June 2019 and the final round set to end in March 2022. And, over the first two years of the tournament, which have included two qualifying rounds, 164 matches, delays and postponements due to coronavirus, the withdrawal of North Korean, and significant format changes, forty-six teams have become twelve. Syria, Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea (winners of their Round Two groups), China, Iraq, Oman, Vietnam and Lebanon (best runners-up from Round Two), will all take part in Asia's third and final qualifying round for the World Cup. During Round Three, the twelve victors from Round Two will be whittled down even further. The third round will determine the four winning teams advancing to the World Cup and two teams who will fight for their place at the inter-confederation playoffs in June for one last chance at qualifying.
As hosts of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar automatically qualifies for the tournament. However, the national team joined the first two rounds of the Asian qualifiers to secure their place at the 2023 Asian Cup competition - the squad took the top spot in their qualifying group.
Round Three Format
The third round of the qualifying competition sees the final twelve teams divided into two groups of six. The tournament will consist of round-robin matches in a home-and-away format. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the World Cup, and the two third-placed teams will advance to a fourth round. The fourth round, home-and-away games over two legs, will decide which team proceeds to the inter-confederation playoffs.
Round Three Groups
The following two groups will contest the top four spots at the 2022 World Cup tournament in Qatar:
The official draw took place at the Asian Football Confederation headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on June 1st. The groups were drawn based on current FIFA rankings. The twelve teams were seeded in pairs before being divided into two groups of six.
In Group A, Korea Republic (having played every World Cup since 1986) and Iran (ranked highest of the group in the FIFA rankings) are odds-on favourites to qualify but will have to be on their guard when encountering Iraq, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Syria:
- The Iraqis, grouped with Iran during the second round of the qualifying tournament, beat their close rivals 2-1 during their first meeting. During their second meeting, Iran only just managed to hold Iraq off with a score of 1-0.
- The UAE, winners of their qualifying group, have a strong team led by ex-Dutch-footballer Bert van Marwijk who has led the team on a winning streak over the past year.
- Syria had an almost unbeaten run throughout their qualifying tournament losing only to China in their final match. The Syrians will be keen to continue their success and make their mark on their first World Cup outing.
- And Lebanon, rounding off the group and making their debut at the World Cup, may also throw up a few surprises. During the second round of the qualifiers, Lebanon successfully held Korea to a goalless draw during their first meeting and lost by only one goal during their second contest with the South Koreans.
In Group B, Japan and Australia were the only two teams in the second round of the Asian qualifiers to maintain a perfect record of eight wins. Both teams are tipped to win the top two spots in their third-round group and head to the 2022 World Cup tournament. Highest FIFA ranked Asian team, Japan, has qualified for the event consecutively since 1998. Australia has entered the tournament on five previous occasions, the last four qualifications successively since 2006. However, the competition in their group is not to be sniffed at:
- Saudi Arabia is considered one of Asia’s most successful teams, having also qualified for the World Cup competition on five occasions. And, though they won only six of their eight 2022 qualifying matches, they should not be underestimated. Indeed, during the 2018 World Cup, Australia finished not only behind Japan but also Saudi Arabia.
- Though China had a slow start to their World Cup qualifying campaign, the team quickly caught up with their nearest group rivals, Syria. They ended the second round only three points behind the Syrians after beating them 3-1 in the tournament's final match. The ever-improving team will be one to keep an eye on during the third round.
- Oman and Vietnam will be fighting to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in either team's history. Vietnam were leaders of their second-round qualifying group, unbeaten over seven matches and only pipped to the post in the final game against the UAE. Oman finished only two points behind their group leaders Qatar. After a successful second round, both teams will have China and Saudi Arabia firmly in their sights. And, who knows, in football, anything can happen...
The Tournament Dates
Kicking off on September 2nd 2021, the final round of the qualifying competition will be played out over the September, October and November windows in 2021 and the January and March windows in 2022. The deciders for the inter-confederation playoffs will be held during the June window of 2022. Venues are yet to be determined.
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