March 30 – While UEFA and Concacaf have opened up their Qatar 2022 qualifying with a slew of matches, the AFC has pushed back the next rounds of its Asian Qualifer series to June where centralised groups will complete the preliminary round 2 of group play.
But two crucial qualifiers last night saw two of Asia’s leading contenders take a big step into the next round of qualifying, with fans getting involved on the matches on the sites listed at Arabianbetting.com.
In Group D, Saudi Arabia beat Palestine 5-0 in what is probably the most evenly matched and competitive of the qualifying groups. While in Group F Japan put 14 unanswered goals past Mongolia to take a five point lead at the top of the group with three to play
Saudi Arabia were lieing in second place in their group, a point behind Uzbekistan who have played a game more. They now lead by two points with thgeir remaining matches all to be played at home.
Saudi’s opponents last tonight, Palestine, are bottom of the group with four points from five games but were no pushover. Palestine are a point behind Yemen. All four teams (including Uzbekistan) made it to the expanded 24-team finals of the AFC Cup in 2019 and all are still in with a chance of making it again.
Only group winners in the current AFC group stage are guaranteed entry into the final 12-team stage of AFC World Cup qualification where they will play in two groups of six with the top two from each group qualifying for Qatar 2022, with the third placed teams playing off for a further chance to qualify via the inter-confederation play-off.
All 12 teams also qualify for the China 2023 Asian Cup, with the other nations going into further qualifying rounds to compete for the other 12 slots (assuming China make it into the next round of Qatar 2022 qualifying, if not then there will only be 11 slots left to fill for 2023).
Saudi Arabia, who have recently stepped up to host centralised Champions League group stages and a group of final Asian qualifier matches (and have this week brought the NEUM project as a major new global sponsor to the AFC) are keen for their national team to back this up with a second consecutive qualification to the World Cup finals.
At one point the Saudis looked to be falling at the first hurdle after a disappointing 2-2 draw against Yemen got the Green Falcons off to a less than ideal start, followed by a goalless draw against Palestine in October 2019.
When they found themselves 2-1 down to Uzbekistan in Tashkent their situation looked bleak, but goals from Salman Al Faraj and Salem Al Dawsari helped them engineer a remarkable late recovery in a 3-2 win.
A brace from Saleh Al Shehri and further goals from Yasser Al Shahrani, Fahad Al Muwallad and Salem Al Dawsari put paid to an early challenge from the Palestineans.
Coach Herve Renard, who blooded new young players in a friendly win over Kuwait last week, and used them again in the crucial qualifier was understandably happy. “The players performed well, especially the young players who also featured in the friendly against Kuwait,” said Renard. All Saudi Arabia’s team play in the domestic Pro-League and all of their final four group qualifiers are being played on home soil.
Japan taking control
The Japanese pretty much guaranteed their progress to the final stages of Qatar 2022 qualifying with their 14-0 thumping of Mongolia in Chiba, just one goal short of their all-time biggest win.
Japan lead their group with five wins from five and have yet to concede a goal. Mongolia are bottom of the group with just one win from their six games played. Japan just need four points from three matches to qualify. Japan are looking to reach their seventh FIFA World Cup in a row at Qatar in 2022.
Last week Japan showed they were in good form beating arch rivals South Korea and in the process giving squad places to nine new players. Mongolia came across a Japanese team at exactly the worst time.
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