- Second round of 2022 World Cup qualifying set to begin in Asia
- Forty of the continent's top-ranked sides involved
- Thailand-Vietnam among the top Matchday 1 attractions
Asia's top teams aim to open with a bang as the continent's second qualifying round for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ kicks off on Thursday. It features 40 of the continent's top-ranked sides, including the six teams who progressed from the first round in June.
Thirty-two teams are involved on Matchday 1, while eight sides, including Asia's five representatives at Russia 2018 – IR Iran, Japan, Australia, Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia – will wait until Matchday 2 to see action.
Matchday 1 fixtures:
Group A: Guam-Maldives, Philippines-Syria
Group B: Chinese Taipei-Jordan, Kuwait-Nepal
Group C: Bahrain-Iraq, Cambodia-Hong Kong
Group D: Singapore-Yemen, Palestine-Uzbekistan
Group E: India-Oman, Qatar-Afghanistan
Group F: Mongolia-Myanmar, Tajikistan-Kyrgyz Republic
Group G: Thailand-Vietnam, Indonesia-Malaysia
Group H: Sri Lanka-Turkmenistan, Korea DPR-Lebanon
This Group G clash is capturing the imagination across the region and beyond, due to the long-standing rivalry between the south-east Asians. Hosts Thailand, under new Japanese boss Akira Nishino, enter the fixture with a dominant head-to-head record, having won 15 and drawn four of their 22 past meetings with Vietnam in all competitions.
Notably, the War Elephants prevailed both home and away on the road to Russia 2018. Park Hangseo's visitors, meanwhile, can take heart from their latest showings in the King’s Cup 2019 in June, when they sank the Thais 1-0.
With both main striker Teerasil Dangda and Adisak Kraisorn out, young Supachai Jaided will shoulder the scoring burden for Thailand, while Japan-based Chanathip Songkrasin provides drive from the midfield.
Spearheading the Vietnam attack is, of course, Belgium-based Nguyen Cong Phuong, an emerging star who scored twice to help his side to the last eight of the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
In another match, Malaysia will count on their promising star Safawi Rasid's attacking form as they aim to win in Indonesia.
The other attractions
Syria visit the Philippines in Group A hoping to reproduce the form which saw them reach the fourth round of Asian qualifying for the first time in the Russia 2018 preliminaries. Having stunned the likes of Turkmenistan and India in the same stage of qualifying for the last World Cup, Guam entertain Maldives.
In Group B, Jordan travel to Chinese Taipei with their sights fixed firmly on three points. Kuwait, meanwhile, welcome Nepal aiming to prolong their fine record. However, the hosts should keep wary of the opponents' recent form, which included a goalless draw with Kuwait in a friendly.
In Group C, Iraq arrive in Bahrain aiming to prolong their superior record against the hosts, having won 14 and lost just five of their previous meetings in all competitions. Despite this, however, it is the Bahrainis that enter the match in high spirits, having defeated the Iraqis in the recent WAFF Championship final. In another match, Hong Kong look for a sixth victory from six meetings with Cambodia.
Having won both home and away in the qualifying for Germany 2006, Uzbekistan face hosts Palestine in Group D aiming to build on their proud record. The section's other match pits hosts Singapore against Yemen.
Reigning Asian champions Qatar welcome Afghanistan in Group E confident of opening their campaign with a win. India, meanwhile, will look to the experience of 35-year-old captain Sunil Chhetri when they entertain Oman.
In Group F, Michael Weiss's Mongolia host Myanmar hoping to continue their fantastic run, having seen off Brunei Darussalam over two legs to reach the second round for the first time in history. Another game sees a pair of central Asian sides square off, with Tajikistan hoping for a home victory over Kyrgyz Republic.
In Group H, hosts Sri Lanka face a daunting task against Turkmenistan, having lost away and drawn at home against the central Asians on the road to Germany 2006. It is, however, Lebanon who can draw inspiration from their proud head-to-head record against hosts Korea DPR, having stayed undefeated since 2000.