It’s hard to believe how fast 2013 has gone. FIFA World Cup qualifying has is coming to an end after a long, arduous 3 year journey. Some nations have been eliminated for more than 2 years already! When it comes to Asia, their World Cup campaign is always first to end, discounting Oceania. The confederation smartly does not waste any FIFA dates. They’ve used 2 FIFA dates this year to begin qualifying for their 2015 continental championship in Australia, meaning that 1/3 of the matches have already been played!
We’ve previewed the Asian Cup qualifiers previously at We Global, but I don’t believe we’ve ever covered how the qualifying campaign is designed to work. To this point, there are already 4 nations through to the finals.
|Previous Third Place
|2012 Challenge Cup Champion
|2014 Challenge Cup Champion
Qualifying for the Asian Cup Finals is broken down into 5 groups of 4, for a total of 20 teams. All group winners and runners-up will advance to the finals. Since Australia is both the host nation and previous runner-up, the best 3rd place team will also advance to the finals, completing a field of 16 nations.
Let’s take a look at how each group currently stands and how the picture may come a little more into focus after the third round of fixtures.
Singapore v Syria – Singapore
This match, in all honesty, will have more implications on the third place table than it will in the Group A standings. Both of these nations are winless thus far, but Syria did manage a 1-1 draw with Jordan in their last qualifier. Singapore will host Laos on the 10th to prepare for the match, while Syria does not appear to have any warm-ups scheduled. Jalan Besar stadium in Singapore is a very small venue of only 8,000, but the spectators are practically on the pitch and often come out in strong numbers to support their country. I’d expect a tight match with both teams coming away with points.
Jordan v Oman – Amman, Jordan
Jordan are flying high after a highly dramatic home and home series with Uzbekistan in the AFC World Cup playoff. As I’m sure you’re well aware, they will face the 5th place CONMEBOL team in a home and home series for a spot in Brazil 2014 next month. Oman, on the other hand, crashed out on the final matchday of Asian WCQs. They certainly have nothing to hang their heads about after a fantastic showing. Both of these nations will be at Australia 2015, so there is little to play for except to brag about who qualifies first. King Abdullah Stadium has been a fortress for Jordan recently. They are undefeated in their last 15 home matches with 12 wins and 3 draws. Oman last visited Amman in June and left with a 1-0 defeat. Expect a similar result here.
Prediction: Jordan by 1
Lebanon v Kuwait – Beirut, Lebanon
This is a very, very intriguing Group B matchup. Kuwait sit a surprising second with an away win in Thailand and a home draw to World Cup qualifier Iran. Kuwait have had a strong 2013, posting 7 wins from 11 matches. Lebanon have struggled somewhat in 2013. They were in over their head in the final round of Asian World Cup qualifying and their record shows. They’ve only managed 2 wins from 11 matches so far this year. Luckily for them, 1 of those wins came in this competition. The Cedars will prepare for this match with a friendly against Kuwait’s neighbor to the north and west (not a Kardashian reference!) Iraq. Kuwait has won 2 of the previous 4 matchups with Lebanon, while drawing 1 and losing the other. Road wins are difficult, but I think one happens here.
Prediction: Kuwait by 1
Iran v Thailand – Tehran, Iran
Thailand have their second long flight west this campaign for a difficult away test in Tehran. Thailand has had a fairly quiet 2013. They were eliminated from Brazil 2014 before the final round of qualifying and they haven’t filled their schedule with too many friendlies. They’ve only played 4 matches this year, but did post an impressive 5-1 drubbing of China PR last time out. Thailand will play Bahrain in Bangkok on the 10th before departing for Tehran.
Iran has had a great 2013. They qualified directly for Brazil 2014 by ripping off 3 straight shutout wins over Qatar, Lebanon and Korea Republic. They also lead Group B and appear to be a sure bet for Australia 2015. There are no warm up matches scheduled for Iran, but that shouldn’t pose a problem. Iran should win comfortably.
Prediction: Iran by 2
Indonesia v China PR – Jakarta, Indonesia
This is a tricky fixture to figure out. China should be better than what they are currently. They appear to be slowly turning things around though. They’re undefeated in their last 5, and can boast a win against Australia and draws against Korea Republic and Japan. Despite the recent run of form, their away record is dismal. They’ve lost 5 and drew 1 in their last 6 road matches. Indonesia hasn’t played much this year, but did put on quite a display in a 2-0 win against the Philippines in August. Indonesia need the points badly if they are to make a run at the finals and always have fantastic support at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium above. The predictor likes China by the slimmest of margins, but I just don’t know if I agree.
Iraq v Saudi Arabia – Amman, Jordan
Another matchup of group leaders in this contest. Luckily for them, the other teams in Group C aren’t very strong because both have been in bad form recently. Iraq took part in the final round of Asian WCQ but couldn’t figure things out in the June fixtures, losing all 3 games 1-0. They are winless and goalless in their 5 matches and haven’t scored since March! They’ll warm up with matches against Yemen and Lebanon leading up to this one.
The Saudis were outclassed in their inaugural OSN Cup last month, which they hosted. They lost to New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago in that small 4 team tournament and came in last place. Good for CONCACAF and the OFC! This fixture is being played in Jordan due to the usual security concerns in Iraq, and probably won’t be more than a few hundred people in attendance. Truly a neutral venue. I think Iraq turns it around and wins a close one.
Prediction: Iraq by 1
Malaysia v Bahrain – Shah Alam, Malaysia
Similar to Thailand and Indonesia, Malaysia are another Southeast Asian team who haven’t played very much this year. They’ve played 3 friendlies outside of their Asian Cup qualifiers and lost all 3 by a combined score of 8-1. Don’t let the standing fool you, as their 3 points have come against Yemen. This match will play a huge factor in determining who qualifies. If Malaysia do not win, they’re practically eliminated. I just can’t see Yemen taking any points in this group.
Bahrain play a ton of matches every year, but rarely travel this far from home. They’ll leave early and stop in Bangkok for a warm up against Thailand to get everyone acclimated to the time change. We have over 50 spots in our rankings between the two teams. Bahrain is the better team, but may find this to be a little more challenging than it is on paper.
Qatar v Yemen – Doha, Qatar
Both teams appear to be taking this fixture more seriously than I, as they both have warm up friendlies scheduled. Qatar has scheduled a home match against Vietnam, who also will be travelling east for their match in Uzbekistan. As previously mentioned, Yemen will travel to Beirut to presumably lose to Iraq.
There isn’t a whole lot of previewing needed for this match. Qatar competed well in the final round of Asian WCQ, while Yemen may be one of the worst teams in Asia, if not the world. There is zero chance Qatar do not win this game. Take that to the bank and cash it.
Prediction: Qatar by 2
Hong Kong v UAE – Hong Kong
This is my favorite fixture of matchday 3. I’m totally enthralled by the UAE undefeated streak that has now run up to 15 games. The UAE took part in Saudi Arabia’s inaugural OSN Cup and came away champions. They were unlucky to draw with Trinidad but advanced on penalties and then took care of business against New Zealand in the final. You’d have to assume that the UAE will be in Australia in 2015 regardless of the outcome of this match.
Hong Kong have been the surprise of qualifying so far. They’ve earned an away point in Uzbekistan and beat Vietnam 1-0 back in March. Having already made the trek to Uzbekistan, Hong Kong are in prime position to surprise again and compete for a spot in Australia. Any points earned here would be great, but the UAE pose too great of a threat.
Prediction: UAE by 2
Uzbekistan v Vietnam – Tashkent, Uzbekistan
It will be curious to see how the Uzbeks perform in their first match since that heartbreaking penalty shootout against Jordan. They currently sit third in the group and are in need of some points. To their credit, they do have the trip to UAE out of the way, so things will get easier for the Uzbeks as the group progresses.
Vietnam does not play that often, but they haven’t won a game since November 2012. They seem to be out of their element in this group and do not pose much threat. I expect that they’ll compete and be very difficult to break down, but ultimately will not have what it takes to beat Uzbekistan.
Prediction: Uzbekistan by 2
Don’t forget to download the match tracker as matchdays 4 and 5 are in November! We’ll surely know a lot more about Australia 2015 in the next 6 weeks.