Taiwan drawn into open World Cup Qualifying group

The AFC World Cup qualifying draw took place last night and Taiwan were drawn into qualifying group B alongside Australia, Jordan, Kuwait and Nepal. It the words of Taiwan manager Louis Lancaster, it could have been a lot worse, therefore cautious optimism prevails.

It could have been worse 

Louis Lancaster summed up Taiwan's draw in two phrases today in an interview with the South China Morning Post by saying they could have ended up with a much worse draw (see Hong Kong's group to know how bad it could have been), and the one they do have is a much of a muchness once you look past Australia.

Jordan and Kuwait are still difficult ties, and by no means will it be easy for them, but what the draw has given the Taiwanese players, team, staff and fans is a chance to be competitive and pick up points.

Yes, Jordan has done well recently in the Asian Cup, where they beat Australia, and they also beat Australia in qualifying, but someone like Uzbekistan would have been a much more daunting prospect. Therefore we should be happy enough with getting Jordan, that doesn't mean it will be easy against them, but there is a chance (similar to Bahrain) that Taiwan could pick up points against them.

And the same goes for Kuwait who has a false ranking due to just coming off the back of a Fifa ban, which means they should have possibly been higher in the draw, similar to Indonesia. Therefore Kuwait no doubt have the chance to be one of the trickiest sides from pot 4 to draw, but at the same time, they will now go into that game with no fear and a belief they can do well against stronger teams.

The outcome of Taiwan's group lies in the games home and away against Jordan and Kuwait because I think Australia will be too difficult for every team in the group to overcome. Taiwan also must deal better with the pressure of now being the favourite to win some games especially when it comes to the rematch with Nepal. The pair recently drew 1-1 in a friendly where the side seemed a bit lost about knowing what to do when having more of the ball than usual. No doubt they will be working on that a lot more when they come to playing Nepal again. If they have any aspirations of being one of the best second-placed sides which is Louis' target then they must beat Nepal both home and away.

Targeting the best runners up spot and a place at the 2023 Asian Cup

It may sound unrealistic to people on the outside looking into Taiwanese football, but the target is to aim to be one of the best runners up, get to the final round of World Cup qualifying, therefore securing 10 more competitive fixtures against the regions elite sides, and win a ticket directly to the 2023 Asian Cup.

Even if that target does become unattainable and Taiwan don't hit it, it is better to aim high and fail than to tell the players we have no chance of qualifying and we should just succumb to our destiny. This new philosophy of Taiwan's is very refreshing for the national team and long may it continue because it is better than throwing in the white flag.

Taiwanese football has come a long way since World Cup qualifying for Russia, and I believe either Jordan or Kuwait will lose to Taiwan at home. Maybe they even both will, but I am very confident one of them at least won't leave Taipei without any points.

The key for Taiwan is, obviously don't lose at home against teams there competing against (not losing to Australia is a tough ask) beat Nepal twice and at least pick up a few draws away from home (away from home is something Taiwan have needed to improve on for some time). If this does happen then we can all be extremely pleased with Taiwan's World Cup campaign no matter if they finish second or not, because it shows the improvement is still happening.

We believe that the second spot is an attainable target to aim for and go into qualifying with cautious optimism. If Taiwan manages to reach the peak level they've been playing at recently in these matches then there is a chance. As they are the lowest-ranked seed in pot 3, teams may underestimate us. Teams may not come with the respect they should and think it'll be an easy win. Whatever happens, every team will be in for a tough match, and that is something they won't be expecting.  

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