Hopefuls primed as Asian Qualifiers kick-off looms
Kuala Lumpur: With the kick off to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers - Preliminary Joint Qualification Round just three days away, the 12 teams in the fray first are leaving no stone unturned in their preparations.
At stake is a place in the second round of the Asian Qualifiers and Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Guam, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste are all intent on sealing a place in the July 17 draw.
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Mongolia and Brunei Darussalam will have the honour of kicking off the Asian Qualifiers when they face off in Ulaanbaatar on Thursday and both have prepared well for their two-leg match-up.
Mongolia, who progressed to the second round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, underwent a training stint in Thailand while Brunei Darussalam set up base in China PR in preparation for the Asian Qualifiers.
Bangladesh, who will play Laos in the first leg away at the National Stadium, have also undergone a 10-day training stint in Bangkok and will move to Vientiane on Monday for the final phase of preparations ahead of Thursday's match.
The South Asians will approach the match brimming with confidence after scoring a 3-0 win over Thai club BG Pathum United FC and playing to a 1-1 draw with Air Force Club.
Laos won't be lacking in confidence either, having defeated fellow hopefuls Sri Lanka in a friendly last week.
An added incentive for the Southeast Asians to make the second round is the fact that this was where their campaign had started in the previous three editions, missing out this time due to a drop in their FIFA Ranking.
Bhutan, who made a sensational debut on the FIFA World Cup qualifying stage four years ago by defeating Sri Lanka in the preliminary round to advance to the next phase, face Guam with the aim of replicating that form.
Guam, however, are also looking to continue from where they left in the 2018 Qualifiers, which saw them registering two wins and a draw in the second stage of qualifying.
Cambodia, who face Pakistan, will be determined to make the second round of the Asian Qualifiers after having done so in the 2018 edition. However, the Southeast Asians lost all eight matches at that stage of Russia 2018 qualifying and are focused on doing much better this time around.
Pakistan are also on mission, having not won a match in their previous appearances in FIFA World Cup qualifying, setting the stage for a bumper clash over the two legs which will be played in Phnom Penh and Doha, Qatar.
Macau and Sri Lanka will also be bidding to end long waits when they face off on Thursday and June 11.
Macau have never progressed past the first round of the Qualifiers while Sri Lanka's last appearance in the second stage was in qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Malaysia, the highest ranked among the 12 teams, will have home ground advantage for both legs with Timor Leste opting to host the second leg at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil. The first leg has been rescheduled to Friday.
Malaysia warmed up for the two-leg tie with a 2-0 win over Nepal on Sunday and will be optimistic of their chances but Timor-Leste's passion makes them opponents to be wary of.
Note: Timor-Leste are ineligible to participate in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, after the AFC Disciplinary and Ethics Committee expelled the Federacao Futebol Timor-Leste from the tournament in January 20, 2017, for fielding ineligible players. Their participation is for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 only.
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