AFC 2026 World Cup qualifying sees seven nations qualified for 18 team third round

April 3 – The second round group qualifiers for AFC nations chasing places at the 2026 World Cup has now seen seven out of 18 slots filled for the third round.

The second round has 36 teams competing in nine groups with the two top teams in each group going through to the finals.

After four matches Japan lead their group unbeaten with 12 points, the last three having been awarded by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee after DPR Korea refused to host the Japanese.

The North Koreans refused to host the Japanese after rumours of a virus outbreak in Japan. FIFA said that having reviewed the factual evidence the “Disciplinary Committee has decided to declare the match lost by forfeit 3-0 by the representative team of DPR Korea”. They were also fined CHF 10,000.

With two match days in the second round still to be played the other qualifiers for round three are Australia, Iraq, Iran, Qatar, Uzbekistan and United Arab Emirates.

Indonesia continued their form from January’s Asian Cup with two consecutive wins over Vietnam, making them ASEAN’s best performing team after four matchdays.

Shin Tae-yong’s side sit on seven points in Group F, four ahead of Vietnam. A win against group leaders Iraq or Philippines in June will see them into the third round of the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers and qualification for the AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027.

Asian Cup champions Qatar have continued their winning form into the 2026 qualifiers with four straight wins, the latest coming after all-time top scorer Almoez Ali scored in the 77th and 80th minutes to secure a 2-1 victory over Kuwait.

Tajikistan, one of the breakthrough stories from the Asian Cup who were beaten by Jordan in the quarter finals, having taken that form into the qualifiers drawing 1-1 with group leaders Saudi Arabia.. The result keeps Tajikistan in the race for progression but also meant Saudi Arabia have to wait till, at least, Matchday Five to confirm their spot in the third round.

The 18 teams who advance from the second round will be divided into three groups of six teams, playing on a home-and-away basis. The top two teams of each group qualify directly for the FIFA World Cup, the third and fourth-placed teams advance to the fourth round.

The six third and fourth-placed teams from the third round will be divided into two groups of three teams each. The teams will play against each other once in a neutral venue. The winners of each group qualify for the World Cup, and the runners-up of each group advance to the fifth round play-off for the AFC slot in the inter-continental play-offs.

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