Kuala Lumpur: Excitement is building as 40 national teams from around the Continent prepare to begin Round 2 of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 on Thursday.
With the major tournament dreams of the majority of Asia’s national teams on the line, and a total of 32 matches to be held in the coming days, the-AFC.com looks at some of the stats and facts you should know ahead of the football feast ahead.
See also :
Preview: Group A
Preview: Group B
Heroes, comebacks and last-gasp winners: Four Classic Asian Qualifiers
ASEAN goes global
They’ve met countless times, but they’ve rarely met here. Few regions come into contact on the football pitch as often as the nations of Southeast Asia, which account for 80 per cent of Group G, but all-ASEAN FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers meetings have been few and far between.
Thailand v Vietnam, Indonesia v Malaysia and Indonesia v Thailand are all on the menu in the next 10 days; fixtures which have occurred a combined total of seven times in the several decades of FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Most strikingly, Indonesia and Malaysia have met over 70 times, including in the AFF Cup final in 2010, but their only previous meeting in FIFA World Cup qualifying was a single 0-0 draw in 1977, making Thursday’s clash between the traditional rivals one of heightened importance.
Asia’s busiest national team
Having stormed to a maiden AFC Asian Cup title in February, Qatar staked their claim as arguably the best team on the Continent, but what is beyond doubt is that they have been the busiest.
Felix Sanchez’s side have played 21 full internationals (12 wins, 2 draws, 7 losses) since the 2018 FIFA World Cup came to an end – more than any other Asian side – while their opponents on Thursday, Afghanistan, have played only four matches (0 win, 1 draw, 3 losses) in the same time span - the least of any side to have reached the second of the Asian Qualifiers.
When Shomurodov scores, Uzbekistan score
With five goals in his first seven matches for FC Rostov this season, Uzbekistan’s Eldor Shomurodov (pictured above, left) is one of Asia’s form strikers, but what is even more impressive is his influence for the national team.
The 24-year-old has scored in five of the last 11 Uzbekistan fixtures for a total of seven goals. In the six games during that period where Shomurodov hasn’t scored, the team hasn’t either, with the sole exception being June’s 4-0 friendly win over DPR Korea.
Chasing Saudi Arabia’s sharpshooter
With Asia’s top sides entering the Asian Qualifiers race this round, there will be no shortage of talented strikers on show, but it will take an outstanding effort for anyone to match Mohammed Al Sahlawi’s performances for Saudi Arabia on the Road to Russia 2018.
The forward netted 14 goals in eight games in first group stage of the 2018 Qualifiers, including eight in two matches against Timor-Leste, as part of a total qualifying haul of 16, a feat matched only by Ahmed Khalil and Robert Lewandowski.
The Assist artists
While Al Sahlawi was scoring the goals in Round 2 of the Asian Qualifiers last time around, Australia’s Aaron Mooy was providing them, with seven of his nine assists in Russia 2018 Qualifying coming in the first group stage.
UAE’s Omar Abdulrahman also delivered seven assists in Preliminary Stage 2, with a stunning six of them coming in one sensational performance when UAE beat Malaysia 10-0 in Abu Dhabi.
A chance for payback
The aforementioned result was Malaysia’s worst ever in World Cup Qualification, but they will have the chance to avenge that defeat when they host UAE on September 10, in one of two such fixtures in the first two Matchdays of Asian Qualifiers.
This Thursday the Philippines will also face the team that inflicted their biggest ever FIFA World Cup qualifying loss in Syria, who dished out a record 12-0 defeat in 2001.
Darkest before the dawn?
The Philippines-Syria fixture might be one steeped in the wrong kind of history for the Southeast Asians, but neither of the two sides – both of whom qualified for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 – will enter the tie in their best form.
Syria have won just two out of 15 games in 2019, and haven’t won any of their past six, while the Philippines have lost seven in a row as part of a nine-game winless run.
Cambodia’s unprecedented winning streak
Whatever happens in Round 2 of the Asian Qualifiers, Cambodia have already had their most successful FIFA World Cup campaign in terms of games won.
Coming into their Round 1 tie against Pakistan, the Southeast Asians had won only two of their 26 all-time qualifiers, with their successive victories over Pakistan in June giving them their first ever World Cup winning streak.
Should they win any of their eight matches in the current stage of Asian Qualifiers, they will have picked up more wins in this campaign than in all of their previous FIFA World Cup qualifying attempts combined.
Queiroz stands alone
While qualifying for the FIFA World Cup is rarely an easy task for any player, it can be even more difficult for coaches trying to lead a national team to world football’s promised land.
While five Asian teams qualified for Russia 2018, only one – IR Iran’s Carlos Queiroz – led his side all the way from the beginning of the qualifying campaign to the tournament proper, with fellow qualifiers Australia, Japan, Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia all changing their head coach at some point in the cycle.
The stat Thailand want to end
Japan’s Akira Nishino was one of the coaches who took charge of an Asian team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the former Samurai Blue boss will lead Thailand when their campaign begins against Vietnam on Thursday.
One record Nishino will be happy to see come to an end is Thailand’s streak of 12 successive FIFA World Cup Qualifiers without a clean sheet, a run stretching back to their 2-0 win over Chinese Taipei in June 2015.
Goals you can set your watch to
UAE’s Khalil and Saudi Arabia’s Al Sahlawi were the Continent’s scoring leaders on the Road to Russia, but there was one player who had everyone covered when it came to goal-getting efficiency.
Palestine’s Ahmad Abu Nahyeh (pictured above, right) netted four goals in three Round 2 appearances in their last campaign and scored once more as a substitute in the Final Round of AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Qualifiers, giving the forward the stunning Asian Qualifiers total of five goals at a rate of one every 35 minutes of playing time.
The Australian globetrotters
Aside from the quality of the opposition, travel can be a significant factor when trying to qualify for the world’s largest football event by criss-crossing its largest continent and, occasionally, beyond.
The best example comes from Australia, who set a new record when they travelled 250,000km – including a trip to Honduras and back - throughout their record-equalling 22-game odyssey to qualify for Russia 2018.
Syria’s Mr Dependable
Syria came within two wins of reaching the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 2018, and one of the first names on their team sheet during their qualifying campaign was goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma.
After sitting on the bench for their opening fixture against Afghanistan, Alma – who remains Syria’s number one - started all of their remaining 19 matches, keeping seven clean sheets in a Continent-high 1,843 minutes of game time.
Photos: AFP, AFC
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