AFC World Cup qualifying review - Group A

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We have just trundled over the half way point of Asian World Cup qualifying, where the teams who played in their opening group matches, have just completed their return leg game. So we have decided to steal Johnny Duerden's idea where he reviewed a handful of the 'top Asian sides' performances. We have went next level, and decided to review the whole bastard lot. Hardcore! This instalment will cover group A of Asian World Cup qualifiers. 

Syria - A

As I predicted, Syria are the team to beat in Group A, and not top seeds China. So far Syria haven't dropped any points, winning all five of their matches, scoring 14 and only conceding 4. Giving them a goal difference of +10, which will be vital if they collapse and find themselves in that second placed spot, because a mighty goal difference would mean even if that did happen they wouldn't need to worry because they will easily be one of the best runner up teams.

However, that is not going to happen, because China could possibly implode, and they are the only team Syria need to worry about. Defeating China in their 'home' game was massive for the Syrians, Syria's home games are being played in the UAE, as we all know they cannot be hosted in Syria right now.

Nevertheless, even though they aren't hosted in Syria, there is still as big turnout in support of Syria in the UAE and just under 7000 showed up to see them triumph in the crucial fixture. Defeating the Chinese has put enough distance between Syria and China, that even an away defeat to China won't knock Syria off the top spot, and they look destined to finish on top of the group.

In Omar Al Somah, Syria currently have the top scorer involved in qualifying, with 7 goals. With someone as prolific as Al Somah leading the line for them, it is unsurprising that Syria are doing so well, their defence is holding teams out, and their attack are getting business done at the other end.

China C

China just haven't been good enough so far in qualifying. Their traveling fans let them know that fact in Dubai when they were slinging abuse at the players. So far China have only won two matches, against The Maldives and Guam. For a country that has aspirations of becoming a World Cup powerhouse, not just a permanent fixture, then that is not good enough. For a country throwing so much money at football in the country with the pretext of getting them to a World Cup eventually, then it just isn't good enough.

However, the Chinese Super League is a bit of a shambles in my opinion and doesn't offer any support in anyway to the national team by not producing players who are good enough to compete on the international stage. There are players like Wu Lei, who are, but they are few and far between right now.

This lack of quality is what drove then head coach Marcello Lippi down a path of naturalising players, but even this hasn't seemed to have helped China's prospects of doing any better than previous qualifying attempts as labouring to a 0-0 draw away to the Philippines, and  losing against Syria again displayed China still don't have what it takes. Despite adding Elkeson as firepower, and Nico Yanneris to add steel to their midfield.

The hype that surrounded the victories over Guam and the Maldives was blown out of all proportion, it's all well and good smashing loads of goals past that duo, but China would have beaten those two nations with or without the naturalisation. Something which Lippi alluded to himself, when he threw his toys out the pram again during the press conference after their defeat to Syria.

Basically stating its all well and good beating teams at the level of the Maldives and Guam, but if you aren't capable of defeating an fast improving Philippines side, and a strongish (in Asia at least) Syria team then it is very unlikely you're not going to get to the World Cup, despite how much money you pump into it.

China need to stop messing their rules and focus on grass roots football better because right now it seems to me that a lot of people will be milking China's football teets dry, but not actually pushing their improvement. Was Lippi one of those folk? Who knows, to me it seemed like he didn't give a hoot either way, and was more concerned only for how he looked in his role.

Lippi storming out on China, could either be a disaster or a blessing in disguise, personally I think its more of a blessing than a concern, because even though Lippi has a wonderful managerial record, he doesn't seem a good fit for the Chinese if you ask me.

Games against Maldives and Guam are not important now for China, because every team in the group is likely to defeat them, apart from when those two island nations faced each other obviously. The key for China is when they face Philippines and Syria, but mostly Philippines now. Lose to the Philippines and China will be in deep trouble.

China are currently sitting in the 7th spot for the best 4 runner up teams. This means they might even miss out on the World Cup qualifying third round, those runner up teams will be thrown a lifeline though as Qatar are easily going to win their group meaning the best 5th placed team will also advance to the third round. China are in a precarious situation right now, where their World Cup destiny looks to be no longer in their hands.

Philippines - B

When the draw was made, you would expect the Philippines to defeat both the Maldives and Guam but not knock any points of Syria or China. Well if other people didn't have this opinion, then I certainly did. 

The Philippines however, managed to draw 0-0 with China in Bacolod where the Philippines like to play their home matches. That point means that China and the Philippines find themselves on level points as qualifiers trundles past the half way point. Surely they may come back to curse their opening day 5-2 hiding by Syria, which has damaged their goal difference quite a bit. 

It could be a possibility that someone is getting knocked out on goal difference in this group and China would have the upper edge there. If the Philippines can do the unthinkable, and win their match in China, then they could be in business for qualifying for the third round for the first time, and a long bloody time. 

Its a tall order, as most South East Asian sides fail to defeat China in their own back yard. I also read that it was the first time in many moons, of moons that a South East Asian has took a point from their match against China in qualifying. 

The Philippines have been tapping into their extremely large diaspora, one of the few plus points of having a growing, and absolutely massive population. The Philippines will continue to develop if given the right resources and backing, they could end up being a team to watch out for. It is going to be tough for them to get to the third round, but because of China's goal difference, the superior Chinese goal difference could come into contention in this group, and right now they have +11 GD. 

The only way I can see GD not mattering is if the Philippines go away to China and come back with a win. The Philippines are likely to end up third in the group despite the positive reaction after their home draw with the Chinese. If the Philippines somehow do come away from China with a victory, then the Chinese will find themselves in disarray because they'll be looking directly at elimination, and I am sure the Philippines will be chomping at the bit to hoy the boot in. Question is do they have the quality? Under normal circumstances I would say no, but can China sort themselves out in time after Lippi stormed out in a strop. The Chinese have time, and what will make it difficult for the Philippines is they won't know how China will approach the match now. The Philippines should go all out to win that game either way, because a draw won't be good enough. It's like to be third place finish, and a direct route to the Asian Cup qualifiers for the Azkals.

The Maldives - C

The rest of this group would have been over the moon when they realised that they were pulled out of the draw with the Maldives and Guam. Two tiny island nations, with a fraction of the population size of the others in the group. Population size isn't the best way to measure which teams or countries should win all the time, but in this instance, The Maldives and Guam were two of the smallest nations in this round, and Syria, China, and The Philippines could have had a lot more difficult teams as their seed 4 or 5. So happiness would be in the air.

When the draw was made, I had the feeling that Guam would win in Guam, and the Maldives would win in the Maldives. That was not to be though, as the Maldives won 1-0 in Guam, and then won in the previous round of qualifying 3-1 against a Guam side, who look like they are destined to be rooted to the bottom of the group now. 

As for the Maldives, it has been a good campaign for them, a narrow 2-1 defeat away to Syria, a narrow 2-1 home defeat against the Philippines and two victories over Guam seems a good return for the Maldives as they were never expected to take any points of the teams above them. The double over Guam is already more than I expected, and I certainly didn't expect them to push Syria and the Philippines all way in their matches against them. 

Guam - D

Guam did well enough to get past Bhutan in the first round, but were handed one of the easier ties from the first round qualifying pot. Since then the road hasn't being so rosy for tiny island nation Guam. I tipped them to win their opening match against the Maldives, but losing that 1-0 seems to have robbed Guam of their best chance of getting a group stage victory. 

This seems a long way from the last cycle of World Cup qualifiers where Guam made headlines worldwide by drawing with India, and the population comparisons came out, like always when no one actually knows what to write. Oh look, little island drew with a billion people. Nope, BBC, 11 people drew with 11, but you have narratives to keep eh? 

That Russia World Cup qualifying cycle though seems to have been a false dawn for Guam, and withdrawing from Asian Cup qualifying under the pretence of not having enough money to get the team to the fixtures was a lame duck excuse, because Guam knew the score before they entered qualifying. 

Since then, the Guam president has since been banned by Fifa and it seems that under his watch, Guam took two steps forward and 4 back. Karl Dodd seems to be doing all the right things but he has his work cut out for him even to make Guam competitive with nations who can call on an abundance of resources that he doesn't have. However, Dodd seems a battler and he won't be quitting an a huff like Lippi, he won't be going out of the qualifiers without a bloody good fight.

Dodd has reorganised a failing youth system left by neglect, with the majority of the focus only put on the senior team at the time, the youth system had fallen behind, that is what Dodd is dealing with now, and from what I have read about him in Guam newspapers online, he is a bloke who will face any challenge head on. If he gets the support he needs he could do wonders for Guam long term, but in the short term, no matter how much he is willing to jump in the mud and have a right old ding dong, it is going to be an uphill struggle for Guam. 

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