The tentative first steps on the road to Russia will be taken next month as the 12 lowest ranked countries in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) face off in the first round of 2018 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers. The draw to determine these ties will be held at AFC House in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday 10 February, and features some exotic names.
Those ranked 35th to 40th in the AFC on the January edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking (India, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Cambodia, Chinese Taipei and Timor Leste) will be seeded against those ranked 41st to 46th on the continent (Nepal, Macau, Pakistan, Mongolia, Brunei and Bhutan).
Some familiar faces will be eagerly awaiting the outcome of the draw, including Englishman Stephen Constantine who is returning for a second spell as coach of India.
The six ties will be played over two legs, home and away for both sides, on Thursday 12 March and Tuesday 17 March, meaning they take place ahead of the CONCACAF qualifiers, which were drawn last month in Miami. The six victorious sides in Round 1 of AFC qualifying will take their place with the remaining 34 Asian sides in Round 2, a group format of qualifiers which will kick off in June 2015.
The AFC World Cup qualifiers also double as qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, so there is plenty at stake for the international sides of some of the smallest countries on the planet, as they look to take their place among the footballing elite of Asia, and the world.