THE BLOG BY CPD FOOTBALL | The World of Indian football and beyond by Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

Asian Qualifiers set for epic return and decisive battles

AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar

The Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and AFC Asian Cup China 2023™ is set to return with the spotlight shining brightly on Group F leaders and centralised host Japan who will take on Myanmar on Friday at the Fukuda Denshi Arena in Chiba.

The COVID-19 pandemic restricted the Asian Qualifiers to just four matches since November 2019, but after much anticipation, the stage is set for 57 matches to be played over 19 days of thrilling action as the race to qualify for the final rounds of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and AFC Asian Cup China 2023™ reaches its climax in eight centralised venues across the Continent.

The attention will shift to the Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre on Sunday when Group A centralised host China PR take on Guam in an all-or-nothing battle for the home side who will be looking to reduce the eight-point deficit with leaders Syria.

Nepal and Chinese Taipei will kick off the action in Group B on Thursday, June 3, which also marks the return of qualifying action with 11 riveting battles taking place across the rest of the groups. Leaders Australia, who boast an unblemished record of four victories in as many matches, are also in action on the same day in what promises to be an epic contest against host Kuwait.

Meanwhile, the June 3rd action continues in Group C with Asian powerhouses Islamic Republic of Iran and fourth-placed Hong Kong facing off at the Al Muharraq Stadium at 5:30pm (local time), before centralised host Bahrain take on Cambodia at the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa two hours later.

Just 400-odd kilometres away, Saudi Arabia will provide the backdrop for Group D’s only match of the night when Palestine take on Singapore at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh at 9pm, with both sides needing a victory to remain in the running for a spot in the final round of the Asian Qualifiers.

FIFA World Cup 2022 and Group E host Qatar are in action against India with Bangladesh slated to take on Afghanistan in Doha where all eyes will be on the West Asians, who could open up a passage to the final round of the qualifiers for the fifth best second-placed team should they emerge as leaders on the final match day on June 15.

The quest for supremacy remains wide open in Group G with just five points separating the four teams still in contention for top spot. Vietnam remain in pole position but victory for either Malaysia or host United Arab Emirates in their battle on Thursday could change the dynamics of the standings as Thailand prepare to face Indonesia in a gripping contest that could also see the Blue Elephants ascend to the top.

Meanwhile, the Group H action returns on Saturday, June 5, with host Korea Republic fancying their chances of extending their record of nine consecutive FIFA World Cup appearances to double figures, but the Taeguk Warriors will face tough opposition against an inspired Turkmenistan side equally determined to carve out their place in Asian football history.