WCQ: What to expect from the week ahead in Asia? (E-H)

Ahead of the return of Asian World Cup qualification this coming week, excitement is building to see which teams will join Qatar and South Korea in Round 3 of qualification, along the way guaranteeing a spot in the UAE at 2019’s Asian Cup.

Martin Lowe takes a look at who’s likely to ensure progression in Group’s E-H. For a look back at what to expect from Group’s A-D check out his previous preview here.

Group E

  1. Japan – P6 / GD+17 / Pts 16
  2. Syria – P6 / GD+14 / Pts 15

A relatively cut and dry group, which you could argue is already over. Japan and Syria have been pretty much unstoppable at the top of the table, Singapore being the only side outside the duo to take a point off them. Such consistent form looks certain to see both nations safely through to WCR3.

While this has been seen as a given for Japan, who should still be praised after recording 6 successive clean sheets in the group, for Syria this has been a landmark group stage performance. Despite all the turbulence within the country, the national team have been devastating at “home” (neutral venues) and away, ruthlessly so in attack, averaging 4 goals a game in their 5 group victories.

Higher hopes were put on Singapore even before their shock 0-0 draw in Saitama with the Samurai Blue, but they will have to accept ACR3 instead of World Cup progression. Assuming Japan and Syria overcome the weakest duo of Afghanistan and Cambodia in the group, it will be a straight shootout in Saitama once again to see who goes through as group winners.

Key Match: Japan v Syria (Tue)

Barring a massive shock or a remarkable swing in goal difference both nations should make a safe passage through to WCR3, instead this match will purely determine who will top the pile.

Group F

  1. Thailand – P5 / GD+8 / Pts 13
  2. Iraq – P4 / GD+6 / Pts 8
  3. Vietnam – P4 / GD-3 / Pts 4

Group F stands in isolation as the only group of 4 sides, which gives those who finish well the greatest of advantages of having all their section games being considered in any possible lucky loser standings. Thusly Thailand look all but certain to make it through to WCQR3 and the Asian Cup after a thoroughly impressive campaign so far.

Iraq, who continue to be a mess off the field, will have to muster their quality in personnel if they want to finish with Thailand in the top two. With two matches against considerably poorer opposition to come, it shouldn’t be too difficult a scenario, but this is Iraq so it’ll likely go down to the wire. For all their talent, they have only achieved victories this campaign against Taiwan, not exactly something to write home about.

Any slip could let in Vietnam, who, despite losing half of their matches so far, could even achieve a lucky loser spot at this late stage. Assuming they overcome Taiwan, they will hope for Thailand to do them a favour in Tehran, before they visit the same ground looking to leapfrog their opponents at the last post.

Key Matches: Iraq v Thailand (Thu), Iraq v Vietnam (Tue)

All aspects point to Iraq, but in truth they should be in a better position already so it still remains to be confirmed. The fact that it’ll be played on a neutral ground in Iran could also affect the outcome, but if Iraq edge passed Thailand on Thursday, it could be all academic as the Iraqis set sights for top spot.

Group G

  1. South Korea – P6 / GD+23 / Pts 18
  2. Kuwait – P6 / GD+8 / Pts 10
  3. Lebanon – P6 / GD+7 / Pts 10

It’s hard to believe that something such as what is happening in Group G, could ever happen in a more established confederation, such as UEFA, but sadly it’s becoming all too common a place in the AFC. Kuwait, despite being handily placed for qualification found themselves suspended back in October due to governmental involvements off the field, which lead to an awarded defeat to Myanmar, which looks likely to deny them a ticket to WCR3.

We’re now 6 months down the line, with Kuwait in limbo, their ties against South Korea and Laos halted but not forfeited (for now). It leaves the group in disarray as to who will join the irrepressible South Korea, who have yet to drop a point or concede a goal in qualification.

Lebanon look the likeliest at least to finish second in the group in place of Kuwait, but will need to overcome Myanmar in the final match day to do so. For a possible shot of being one of the side’s to clinch a best runners up spot however, they made need a positive result against high flying Korea also.

Key Matches: South Korea v Lebanon (Thu), Lebanon v Myanmar (Tue)

With a question mark over Kuwait’s future in this round of qualification still hanging over us, focus on the pitch can only look to Lebanon’s encounters with Korea and Myanmar. Almost guaranteed to finish ahead of the latter, Lebanon, if Kuwait’s expulsion goes through will likely look for a point or more in Ansan, before hoping to extend their goal difference against Myanmar if they are to chase down a very unlikely WCR3 progression spot.

Group H

  1. North Korea – P7 / GD+7 / Pts 16
  2. Uzbekistan – P6 / GD+11 / Pts 15

It could be argued North Korea have performed the most above their expectations in this qualification campaign, in fact they are the only nation outside the top 16 seeds that remains in the hunt to top a group. For years (some constraints self-inflicted) Korea DPR have been unable to rely on regular on the pitch action, let alone competitive football. The change in format has had many critics, but the likes of Korea and Hong Kong have shown what improvements can be made for the lower ranked teams in cycles to come.

While North Korea, look in a precarious position at the top of the leader board having played a game more, they look pretty secure at clinching a best runners up spot, guaranteeing them a second successive spot at the Asian Cup, a remarkable foot hold considering the standard of group they were drawn in.

While Bahrain have thoroughly underachieved from the start, and with the Philippines’ early charge falling off, Uzbekistan alongside Korea have remained consistent and have it in their own hands, in their own backyard to clinch progression as group winners. As has been the case in this group however, anyone can beat anyone on their day, so it may depend on what opposition turns up, but Uzbekistan look firm favourites.

Key Matches: Uzbekistan v Philippines (Thu), Uzbekistan v Bahrain (Tue)

It’s all in the Uzbeks hands if they want to clinch top spot, even a win and a draw should be enough thanks to their greater goal difference. A home defeat on either day will however allow Korea the chance to confirm top spot with victory in Manila.

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