Qatar head for Malaysia with eye on 2018 finals
29 Aug 2017 - 13:35
Armstrong Vas | The Peninsula
FIFA World Cup 2022 hosts Qatar’s slender hopes of securing a third place in Group A and with it the tricky play-off route for next year’s World Cup finals in Russia be clear in the last two rounds of qualifying over eight days from today.
The qualifying race for the global showpiece event is gathering pace and in the coming days dreams will be fulfilled and others dashed across the continent as a large part of the Asian contingent for next year’s World Cup finals in Russia is decided.
Along with Qatar, ambitious China will also be playing in search of a third place finish in Group A.
The Qatari team held their final training session yesterday at the Khalifa International Stadium before heading to Malaysia in preparation for the Syrian qualifier.
Earlier on Wednesday, Qatar’s national team defeated Turkmenistan 2-1 in a friendly match.
Qatar’s national team returned from England following an extensive training camp in Birmingham, during which they played three friendly matches.
The first one saw them beat Leeds United 2-0. They then lost a match to Nottingham Forrest 1-2. The final match was against Andorra, which Qatar won 1-0.
The third placed teams in each group play each other in a two-legged playoff in October with the aggregate winner facing the fourth-placed team from the Central and North America (CONCACAF) qualifying in November.
A defeat would end Qatar’s slender hopes of a third-place finish and consign them to the ignominy of becoming the first World Cup hosts not to have previously qualified for a tournament.
Syria, who have been playing their home matches in Malaysia because of the civil war, are three points behind Uzbekistan but are still in with a shout of automatic qualification if they beat Qatar in Melaka on Thursday.
Uzbekistan coach Samvel Babayan has promised his team will be ruthless against China, who need a win to stay alive, as they look to set up a winner-takes-all clash against the South Koreans in Tashkent on August 31.
The Uzbeks are third in Group A, a point behind South Korea, and targeting a first appearance at soccer’s global showpiece
Iran qualified with three rounds remaining while Iraq and Thailand can no longer advance, but nine countries still have a chance, however slender, of claiming a ticket to Russia for next year’s finals.
While United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia kick off just over a week of crunch ties in Al Ain today, Japan have the best chance of being the fourth team to reach the finals when they host Asian champions Australia on Thursday.
A point clear of the Saudis and Socceroos in Group B, victory in Saitama will secure Samurai Blue a spot at the finals for the sixth successive tournament going back to 1998.
Their South Korean neighbours have an even longer pedigree and can clinch a ninth straight appearance if they beat Iran in Seoul on Thursday and Uzbekistan lose to Marcello Lippi’s China in Wuhan.
Qualification has not run smooth for either of the East Asian powers, however, with coach Vahid Halilhodzic under heavy pressure in Japan and South Korea under the new management of Shin Tae-yong after the sacking of Uli Stielike last month.