World Cup 2022 ASIAN Qualifiers: Schedule, Dates, Group tables, standings
Photo: the-afc

The Asian section of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification acts as qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, to be held in Qatar, for national teams which are members of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Apart from Qatar (who qualified automatically as hosts), a total of 4.5 slots (4 direct slots and 1 inter-confederation play-off slot) in the final tournament are available for AFC teams.

The qualification process involves four rounds, where the first two rounds double as the qualification for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. Despite qualifying as hosts, Qatar participated in these two rounds to seek Asian Cup qualification. They would have acted as qualifiers for the canceled 2020 AFC Solidarity Cup

How many Asian nations qualify?

Well over two years since the start of the Asian Qualifiers, interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Asia has 12 teams competing for four direct tickets to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.

The first two rounds of qualifying were completed exactly the same as four years ago.

Round One: The 12 lowest-ranked nations played two-legged ties in June 2019. Guam, Macau, Mongolia, Timor-Leste, Bangladesh, and Cambodia advanced.

Round Two: The six winners from the first round joined the other 34 Asian nations, drawn into eight groups of five teams -- also played as qualifiers for the 2023 Asian Cup finals (for this reason World Cup hosts Qatar took part).

In an attempt to get all games completed, the AFC decided to hold all matches on a centralized basis. The round was eventually completed between May 31 and June 15, 2021.

The seven group winners (Qatar was the eighth) and the five best group runners-up progressed.

The 12 nations shown in bold advanced to round three.

Group A: China, Syria, Philippines, Maldives, Guam

Group B: Australia, Jordan, Chinese Taipei, Kuwait, Nepal

Group C: Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Cambodia

Group D: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Palestine, Yemen, Singapore

Group E: Bangladesh, Oman, India, Afghanistan, Qatar

Group F: Japan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Myanmar, Mongolia

Group G: United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia

Group H: South Korea, Lebanon, North Korea (withdrew), Turkmenistan, Sri Lanka

Round Three (final group round): The remaining 12 nations were drawn into two groups of six teams. Group winners and runners-up will qualify for the World Cup.

Group A: Iran, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon

Group B: Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, China, Oman, Vietnam

Match Dates:

MD 1-2: September 2021

MD 3-4: October 2021

MD 5-6: November 2021

MD 7-8: January 2022

MD 9-10: March 2022

Round Four: The teams finishing third in round three played a two-legged playoff, to be played May or June 2022. The winners then advanced to an inter-confederation playoff, to be played June 2022.

Check out the latest fixtures and results here | Latest tables

World Cup 2022 ASIAN Qualifiers: Schedule, Dates, Group tables, standings
Photo: Screenshort
World Cup 2022 ASIAN Qualifiers: Schedule, Dates, Group tables, standings
Photo: Screenshort

How will the seedings for the draw work?

FIFA has released a special FIFA Ranking specifically for Asia today, 18 June 2021, which will be used to determine the seeding for the draw. Qatar, while ranked fifth in this ranking and winners of Group E in Round 2, will not be participating in the third round.

World Cup 2022 ASIAN Qualifiers: Schedule, Dates, Group tables, standings
Photo: the-afc

How will the draw work?

Teams will be divided into six pots according to the FIFA Ranking published on 18 June 2021: Pot 1: Teams ranked 1-2, Pot 2: 3-4, Pot 3: 5-6, Pot 4: 7-8, Pot 5: 9-10, Pot 6: 11-12.

The pot number corresponds to the position the team will be placed in the group. The first and second ball drawn from each pot will be placed in Groups A and B respectively.

The draw will begin with Pot 6, where the first ball drawn will be placed in position A6. The next ball drawn will be placed in position B6, until the sequence is completed all the way through to Pot 1.

Special notes about Asian qualifiers

1. Golden Stars looking to shine on debut

Vietnam will make be making their debut at this stage of the AFC Asian Qualifiers as Park Hang-seo's men look to continue their historic run of form that began at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship.

Since that famous runners-up finish over three years ago, Vietnam have continued to go from strength-to-strength.

A fourth-place finish at the 2018 Asian Games, winning the AFF Championship for just the second time, an impressive showing at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, where they finished among the top eight, before an impressive campaign that saw them progress to this stage of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup

However, when it comes to opening ties in what is sure to be a milestone campaign regardless of their results, few ties are more daunting than a trip to continental heavyweights Saudi Arabia.

The Green Falcons will be intent on making Vietnam's first steps onto the grandest stage of qualifying as forgettable as possible.

Their previous encounters, two decades ago back in 2001, went emphatically the way of Thursday's hosts as a Sami Al Jaber hat-trick saw Saudi Arabia ease to a 5-0 win. It would be a baptism of fire, indeed, if that scoreline were replicated.

2. Unfamiliar surroundings for familiar foes

When Australia face China PR on Thursday it won't be Sydney's stadium nor the ground in Guangzhou that hosts the pair of famous sides, but Doha's Khalifa International Stadium.

In light of the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia and China PR respectively, it was decided that the upcoming match between the two would be held at the neutral venue as part of the AFC’s efforts to ensure the highest safety standards and optimum playing conditions for all stakeholders.

While the Socceroos were successful in the most recent encounter between the sides - memorably defeating the East Asians in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup quarter-finals - China PR do hold their own in match-ups, perhaps most notably with a 1-0 win away at Stadium Australia during qualifying for the 2008 FIFA World Cup.

As far as ties between the two on neutral ground, the most eye-catching was during the 2013 EAFF E-1 Championship in Seoul where China PR edged Australia in a seven-goal thriller. A similar glut of goals would be a sensational start to the Group B campaign.

3. Ali Mabkhout to continue where he left off?

At one point during the previous round of qualifying the United Arab Emirates looked to be in serious trouble. Having lost back-to-back matches against Southeast Asian sides Thailand and Vietnam, the UAE looked some way off the pace in Group G at the halfway point.

But when action returned following the lengthy COVID-19 pandemic enforced break, it was on home soil that the West Asians would conclude the remainder of their fixtures and it was a familiar figure who led the fightback: iconic striker Ali Mabkhout.

Scoring the UAE's first goal back after the break on 18 minutes against Malaysia, the Al Jazira star went on to end the previous round's campaign with five goals from the final four matches to take his total to 11 so far, putting him at the top spot in the goalscorers list in the AFC Asian Qualifiers.

With just their one appearance in the FIFA World Cup previously - at the 1990 edition - many may feel that this is the best, and possibly final, chance for Mabkhout, now in his prime at 30 years old, to fire his nation to the world's biggest stage. Opening day opponents Lebanon will be only too aware of the challenge their backline will face.

4. IR Iran vs Syria, four years on

It will be almost exactly four years ago to the day when IR Iran hosted Syria in the Group A climax of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers - and what a memorable occasion that was!

On September 5, 2017, a Sardar Azmoun brace had Syria 2-1 down and facing elimination until the very dying minutes of the tie at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran.

But then the visitors' talismanic striker, Omar Al Soma, struck home in the third minute of added time to secure a draw, taking his nation into the fourth round playoff and cue wild celebrations on the field.

It's a tie that is set to be replicated this week, but will it be Syrian celebrations again at the final whistle?

5. East powerhouses face West challenge

The two nations with the best records in qualifying will open their campaigns on home soil and against opponents from West Asia as Korea Republic host Iraq and Japan face Oman.

Cumulatively, the Eastern sides boast 16 appearances at the FIFA World Cup, while Iraq and Oman have just one between them, when Iraq reached the Finals of the 1986 edition. A mismatch on paper, but there is reason to believe things will not be as straightforward on Thursday.

Korea Republic struggled against West Asian opposition in the previous round of qualifying, held to a draw by Lebanon in Beirut and only narrowly edging The Cedars in the return leg, while Qatar and Syria also took points off the Koreans during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

Similarly, Japan have shown that they can be caught cold on opening day, dramatically losing their Matchday One tie in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers to the visiting UAE in Saitama, according to the-afc.

World Cup 2022 ASIAN Qualifiers: Schedule, Dates, Group tables, standings
Photo: the-afc

Vietnam History

Appearing at the first two AFC Asian Cups in 1956 and 1960 as South Vietnam, it was under that name the team first took part in FIFA World Cup qualification for the 1974 edition, but after a win over Thailand defeats to Japan and Hong Kong saw the side exit in the first round.

The Southeast Asians would not return to FIFA World Cup qualifying until April 1993 and the first phase of fixtures for USA '94. While a historic moment, the performances on the field could not match with the Vietnamese finishing bottom of Group C.

It was a similar story in subsequent attempts with Vietnam failing to progress to the final round of qualifying for the subsequent six FIFA World Cups. There was still notable success in other competitions during that period, however.

A first appearance at the AFC Asian Cup since 1960 resulted in a quarter-final finish at the 2007 edition which was followed a year later by a maiden AFF Championship in 2008. A decade later Vietnam enjoyed arguably their best ever year in football.

Their runners-up finish at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship captured the imagination of the nation and it was followed up by an equally impressive fourth place finish at the 2018 Asian Games. The year signed off in the best possible way with a second AFF Championship, sealed in front of their home fans at My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi.

In 2019, Park's charges repeated their 2007 heroics at the AFC Asian Cup in the UAE, reaching the final eight and only eliminated by heavweights Japan by the slimmest of margins in a 1-0 defeat.

Reaching the final stage of the qualification process for the FIFA World Cup is another milestone for the New Golden Generation and their passionate fanbase will be hoping there is yet more to come from their team.

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