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Asia’s first-round aspirants in focus

Malaysia players celebrate after the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final second leg match against Thailand
© Getty Images
  • 12 Asian nations will open global 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying in June
  • This week’s draw set up six two-legged ties
  • All Round 1 competing nations previewed

It is just nine months since France hoisted the FIFA World Cup™ into the Moscow night, but already the gaze is turning to the next cycle. Asia will open the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar qualifying campaign in June with Round 1 qualifiers, following the draw conducted in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday. takes a look at the 12 competing nations ahead of the two-legged matches.

AFC Round 1 draw

Mongolia v Brunei Darussalam
Macau v Sri Lanka
Laos v Bangladesh
Malaysia v Timor-Leste
Cambodia v Pakistan
Bhutan v Guam


World Cup qualifying debut: June 1973
Number of World Cup campaigns: 12
Malaysia head into the opening stage as the undoubted heavyweight. Backed by one of the biggest stadiums in the world - Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Jalil – the Harimau Malaya typically enjoy strong support. Malaysia are high on confidence after reaching the AFF (southeast Asian) Championship final in December.


World Cup qualifying debut: April 1997
Number of World Cup campaigns: 5
Much focus will centre on the celebrity of their coach Keisuke Honda, with the Japanese superstar taking the role on a part-time basis. Honda’s club commitments will be over ahead of June’s matches, which are against the second-lowest ranked side on the continent. Cambodia reached Round 2 in 2015 but lost all eight matches.


World Cup qualifying debut: December 1980
Number of World Cup campaigns: 9
Macau have a strong opportunity to break through and reach Round 2 for the first time. Drawn against bottom-side Sri Lanka, Macau found some solid form during AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in 2017, and again during recent EAFF (east Asian) Championship matches.


World Cup qualifying debut: April 2001
Number of World Cup campaigns: 4
Laos will be seeking to rebound after becoming one of four nations to drop down into the Round 1 draw. After earning three Round 2 appearances in their four campaigns, Laos will have to overturn some modest results from the AFF Championship late last year.


World Cup qualifying debut: March 2015
Number of World Cup campaigns: 1
Four years after their historic long-awaited World Cup debut, Bhutan face a tough challenge if they are to reprise that Round 1 success having been drawn against the vastly improved Guam. With just a handful of wins in their 19-year international history, the Himalayan nation will be looking to add to that list following on from their two narrow victories against Sri Lanka in 2015.


World Cup qualifying debut: February 2001
Number of World Cup campaigns: 5
Mongolia progressed to Round 2 four years ago courtesy of two forfeit wins over Timor-Leste. The opening leg was the first in the entire Russia 2018 campaign, with the return at a snow-rimmed pitch in Ulaanbaatar. That aside, they have won just one of 14 World Cup matches, but will take on an opponent with a similar record in Brunei Darussalam.


World Cup qualifying debut: March 1985
Number of World Cup campaigns: 9
Seeded into Round 2 four years ago, Bangladesh managed a single draw against Tajikistan in its eight matches. Now one of the unseeded teams in Round 1, they face a tough challenge against a Laos side toughened by its recent AFF Championship outings.


World Cup qualifying debut: November 2000
Number of World Cup campaigns: 2
Guam were one of the revelations of AFC’s qualifying for Russia 2018. The tiny north Pacific island picked up two wins and a draw in Round 2, including a remarkable win over the world’s second most populous nation, India. Now coached by former A-League player Karl Dodd, the Matao’s outings against Bhutan will be a highlight of Round 1.

Brunei Darussalam

World Cup qualifying debut: February 1985
Number of World Cup campaigns: 3
Despite their World Cup experience stretching all the way back to 1985, Brunei Darussalam have won just one game in their 14-match history. That came as part of a Round 1 aggregate defeat against Chinese Taipei four years ago. Drawn against Mongolia they will be optimistic of improving on that record.


World Cup qualifying debut: October 2007
Number of World Cup campaigns: 3
One of the newest FIFA Member Associations, Timor-Leste’s World Cup history covers just 12 years. The former Portuguese colony to the north of Australia lacks resources but football passion is strong. The humble Dili Municipal Stadium had the honour of hosting the globe’s first World Cup qualifier for Russia 2018.


World Cup qualifying debut: January 1989
Number of World Cup campaigns: 8
Pakistan boast the worst historic record of all 12 participating teams with zero wins from their 30 matches stretching back to the Italy 1990 campaign. They did, however, secure one of their four draws in 2015 against a Yemen side that subsequently qualified for the AFC Asian Cup.

Sri Lanka

World Cup qualifying debut: April 1993
Number of World Cup campaigns: 7
Sri Lanka will be seeking to end a 16-year absence from Round 2 when they take on Macau in June. With just three wins from 22 World Cup matches, Sri Lanka will be hopeful of improving on that record following a solid showing in the SAFF (south Asia) Championship.

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