Myanmar (159), India (154), Chinese Taipei (182), Guam (191)
Group A is quite an interesting combination of teams. This is the second most difficult group to navigate according to the We Global rankings. That being said, Myanmar got off relatively easy in the draw. They were dealt the 4th best team from pot 2 in India, 2nd best team from pot 3 in Chinese Taipei, and the 3rd best team from pot 4 in Guam. Combine this with home field advantage in all three fixtures, and there is no reason to not advance.
Key Fixture: Myanmar v India
Don’t expect Chinese Taipei or Guam to put up much resistance against either Myanmar or India. I fully expect both Myanmar and India to take a full three points from both Chinese Taipei and Guam. The group will be decided in the Myanmar v India matchup. This will only be the third matchup between these two sides this century, and the first meeting in Myanmar since 1986. While there isn’t much history between these two sides, I am predicting The White Angels of Myanmar to edge India by the narrowest of margins and top the group with 9 points, leaving India to sweat out the 2nd place rankings.
Kyrgyzstan (203), Tajikistan (161), Pakistan (167), Macau (204)
This is clearly the worst group out of all 5. If you’re Pakistan, you have to be elated with this draw. Ranked the number 1 team in pot 3 by We Global, they were paired up with worst team in pot 1, the worst team in pot 2, and the worst FIFA team in pot 4. Things could not have fallen any better for the Pakistanis, but a gap in class may still very well exist. I’m not expecting hosts Kyrgyzstan to provide stiff competition as We Global has them ranked below both entrants from pot 2 and 3 and only narrowly above pot 4 entrants Macau. The Reds will find it tough treading unless they can muster up tons of home support.
Key Fixture: Tajikistan v Pakistan
I’m expecting Macau to play the group whipping boys by donating 3 points to everyone else and wishing they had never left Asian Vegas. However, with the role of whipping boy also comes the role of spoiler. Any points stolen will surely be enough to prevent their opponent from advancing, which in itself may be considered a victory.
I’m also expecting Pakistan to share the spoils with Kyrgyzstan to set up a deciding clash with the Tajiks. The last meeting between these two was in 2011 with Tajikistan claiming a narrow 1-nil win in the Maldives. Expect another tight encounter that will prove pivotal in the ranking of 2nd place teams for advancement. I am anticipating Tajikistan will top the group with 7 points and Pakistan to follow with 5.
Laos (168), Afghanistan (140), Sri Lanka (192), Mongolia (189)
This group appears to be fairly straight forward like group B. Laos, ranked 3rd in pot 1, got off scot-free by avoiding pot 2 haymakers Turkmenistan and Palestine. Instead, they were dealt an unproven Afghan side that hasn’t played a competitive match since December 2011. Factor in that Laos just had a nice showing in a nil-nil draw with Korea DPR and they have to favorites to top the group.
Key Fixture: Laos v Afghanistan
We Global simply cannot fathom either Sri Lanka or Mongolia striking gold against the top two teams in this group. In fact, I think the Sri Lankans and Mongols play to a draw simply so they can leave saying they earned a point. The key matchup here is Laos v Afghanistan. Interestingly enough, these two nations have never met. Since there is no history to turn to, we can only assume The Lions’ lack of games and travelling to a sure to be raucous Vientiane will be too much to overturn. Expect Laos to finish with a full 9 points. The worst I can see Laos finishing is with 7 points. Afghanistan should finish with 6 points, but I don’t see that as enough to get them through to the Challenge Cup Finals.
Nepal (183), Palestine (135), Bangladesh (185), Northern Mariana Islands (NR)
If this summer’s East Asian Championship qualifiers are any indication, Northern Mariana Islands are way in over their heads here. They suffered a 3-1 defeat to Guam and an even worse 5-1 defeat to lowly Macau. I would be totally stunned if the Blue Ayuyus come away with anything to show for in these matches. With the inclusion of the Non-FIFA Northern Mariana Islands, We Global has this group ranked as second worst. That has to make Nepal feel somewhat relieved knowing they have a decent shot at advancing.
Key Fixture: Nepal v Palestine
Nepal hosting Palestine has to be the marquee matchup in group D. The two sides have only met in Kathmandu on two other occasions, with Palestine claiming a win and a draw. While Palestine may be the 2nd best team in pot 2, I think Nepal can hold their own here and perhaps force a draw. Any other result would be a Palestine win. I can’t see Nepal claiming victory over a superior Palestine team. But, let’s root for the home team here and say they draw. Palestine and Nepal both top the group with 7 points, but Palestine advances on goal differential. I think 7 points will be enough to see Nepal through in the 2nd place rankings as well.
Philippines (132), Turkmenistan (67), Cambodia (196), Brunei Darussalam (163)
Somewhere in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian Federation is still scratching their head wondering what they could have possibly done to anger the Lords of the Draw this much. The draw literally could not have gone any worse for the Royal Khmers. They even threatened to pull out of the competition back in October citing financial and competitiveness as reasons for not competing. And this was BEFORE the draw! They are definitely wishing they had made good on those threats now because this is a complete disaster.
We Global has this as the most competitive group in the qualifying stages. The Philippines are the top ranked team in pot 1, Turkmenistan the top ranked team in pot 2, and Brunei the top ranked team in pot 4. Brunei already has a 3-2 win over Cambodia to their credit back in October. Look for that trend to continue. Hopefully this group doesn’t make Cambodia quit international football all together.
Key Fixture: Philippines v Turkmenistan
This game not only is the highlight of the group, it may very well be the highlight of the entire qualifying. These two sides have met only twice, with Turkmenistan claiming both. Both games were at neutral sites however. I expect the Azkals to have a packed house at the Rizal National Stadium in Manila at their back, urging them to claim at least a point against the highest ranked team in qualifying. Brunei won’t offer too much for either of these sides to worry about. I think the Philippines claim a draw against Turkmenistan, but place second on goal differential. This has to be the one and only time in sporting history that a team called the Dark Horses is a favorite to win a group, and may be the best team in qualifying. Truly remarkable.
Second Place Rankings
I think the groups shake down fairly close to by the book. I’m predicting the Philippines and Nepal both advance from the second place positions on 7 points. India and Afghanistan will narrowly miss out with 6 points as they will be unable to steal points from the home squads in the group. Pakistan will be the 5th ranked second place team on 5 points with their only win coming against Macau.
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