With Japan, South Korea and China all qualifying for the finals of the Asian Cup automatically and Guam withdrawing that has left only 4 East Asian sides battling it out of for a spot in the finals. With the penultimate game this month it could make or break some countries chances.
Here we preview the four matches involving national teams from East Asia.
Macau is only at this stage of the Asian Cup Qualifiers by the virtue of Guam withdrawing and winning the AFC Solidarity Cup which is a competition designed to give the lowest ranked nations in the AFC competitive games. This can be seen clearly with Macau trailing the group scoring only 1 goal and conceding 11.
In this round of fixtures, they will take on the Kyrgyzstan Republic who are slugging it out with Myanmar for the last qualifying spot, with India taking the top spot. It’s likely to be another defeat for Macau, but they can take the experience from playing this many competitive matches and use it to build for the future.
Hong Kong is second in a complicated group behind already qualified Lebanon. What makes this group complicated is North Korea and Malaysia have played one game less due to the political instability between North Korea and Malaysia due to Kim Jong-Nam’s murder in Kuala Lumpur airport.
This has left Hong Kong not knowing what they’ll need from their remaining games, other than picking up as many points as possible. With the games now set to both take place in neutral Thailand and be completed on schedule at least, Hong Kong will know what is needed from them to stand a chance of qualifying.
Lebanon will prove to be a tricky opponent, they already defeated Hong Kong 2-0 in the reverse fixture but it will be a different situation in the Mong Kok Stadium. We expect Hong Kong to get a result, but anything other than a win might not be enough, with the final game coming against North Korea.
For Hong Kong to qualify, they will most likely need to beat Lebanon at home and North Korea away, as North Korea has two very winnable games against Malaysia.
Lebanon has taken the top spot, and Malaysia is basically out, which makes all roads point to a straight shoot-out between Hong Kong and North Korea in the final game in Pyongyang.
At the time of writing North Korea and Malaysia have only played three games, compared to the four of everyone else involved in qualifying for the Asian Cup Finals. The political situation hasn’t been stable between North Korea and Malaysia, so the AFC had to step in to make sure these games would be played. Both games will take place in Buriram, Thailand.
North Korea must be considered to be in the driving seat for the second spot in the group considering the fixtures they have left. The North Koreans will be considered very strong favourites to win both games against Malaysia. Depending on the results from this round that could leave the winner of the final game between North Korea and Hong Kong in Pyongyang taking the last spot to the finals in the group.
In our opinion, North Korea is likely to pip Hong Kong at the post due to the remaining fixtures, as Hong Kong’s remaining fixtures are significantly more difficult.
Taiwan (otherwise known as Chinese Taipei due to China’s instance on their being one China) have performed above all expectations to be within a chance of winning a finals spot. The surprise victories over Singapore away and Bahrain at home leave the Taiwanese on 6 points, 1 point behind Turkmenistan who they play in this round of fixtures.
If Taiwan can manage to not lose away to the Turkmen this month and beat Singapore in the last round then the possibility of them achieving the un-expectable is very high due to Turkmenistan and Bahrain playing each other in the final games.
If Taiwan can get 4 points from their last two games they will be at the finals. The key is not losing in Turkmenistan.