AFC nations tune up for final group stages of Russia 2018 qualification

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By Paul Nicholson

June 29 – Asian federations are making preparations to tune up their national teams for the final rounds of World Cup 2018 qualifiers which will see the remaining 12 teams split into two groups of six competing for four automatic slots at the Russia tournament, and one play off opportunity.

Teams have already qualified through one group stage that saw eight group winners and the four highest placed runners-up also qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup to be played in the UAE. Those 12 teams also make up the final 2018 World Cup group qualifying.

Uzbekistan, perhaps the surprise team in qualifying to date, won their group comfortably with seven wins out of eight matches, have announced they will play friendly matches against Iraq and Yemen on July 24 and August 24 respectively.

Iraq also qualified for the final rounds of World Cup qualifying though are drawn in the opposite group to Uzbekistan.

The Uzbeks (nicknamed the White Wolves) will open their qualifying campaign in Group A against Syria on October 1, kicking off a round of matches that will see them play all their group opposition once before the end of the year. They will also face Iran, Korea Republic, China, and Qatar.

Qatar have announced that they will hold their pre-qualifying tournament preparation in Switzerland from August 10 to 20, ahead of their first qualifiers away in Iran on September 1 and at home against Uzbekistan five days later.

“The dates of the next training camp have been finalised. ‎All arrangements are in place. We are now approaching a very important phase of our preparations,” national team manager Fareed Mahboob said.

The Qataris will play four friendlies in August against Iraq, Real Betis, Jordan and Thailand as they bid to qualify for 2018, four years before they are hosts to world football themselves in 2022.

As well as Iran, Qatar have Korea Republic, China. Uzbekistan and Syria for company in Group B of what is now the third round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Group B will see Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Thailand battle for the qualifying places. Group qualification matches will be completed by early September 2017.

The winner and runner-up of Groups A and B qualify for the 2018 World Cup Russia finals while the third-placed teams of each group will advance to the Asian Play-off Round which will be played over home and away legs in October 2017. The winners of that round will play the fourth placed team in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, again over home and away legs, in November 2017.

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