Asian World Cup qualifying postponed until 2021

Asian World Cup qualifying was scheduled to get underway again in October, however as expected, restarting qualifying in October seemed highly optimistic. That has turned out to be the case as the fixtures have again been postponed until 2021 because of COVID-19, meaning Asia will have played no international qualifying matches in all of 2020. 

We look at every East Asian Football Federation team, and how things stand as football in Asia was plonked on hold.


China


China are currently in second spot in World Cup qualifying Group A, but because the World Cup hosts are Qatar, this means finishing second in qualifying doesn't ensure you will head straight through to the next round this time round.

China currently find themselves in bit of a tricky spot. The best placed runners up will go through to the next round of Asian World Cup qualifying. China are only the 7th best second placed team as things stand, but are also one of 3 second placed teams that have only played 4 matches, which one less than most qualifiers. 

The best second placed sides will see big changes once games can recommence, but China still have two fixtures that could be quite difficult to navigate, as well as two fixtures they should win comfortably. The tricky ties come against The Philippines and Syria, the good thing for China is that they are due to host both these games, as they have already played both away, losing to Syria and drawing to the Philippines. The ties that China should cruise through are against Maldives at home and Guam away.

The tricky thing for China is that if other teams pick up points too, then those two games against Syria and The Philippines at home are absolutely vital. If China drop points in any of these matches, they could see themselves not squeaking through as one of the best runners up. If they win both of these home games, I believe they will sail through to the next round as one of the best runners up. China know what is needed, and if I was a betting man, I would guess they will do just enough to sneak into the next round, because their goal difference is one of the most superiors out of all the teams remaining in World Cup qualifying, not only their group. 


Guam


Guam are the other side from the EAFF who find themselves involved in Group A. Unlike China, Guam have found the group stage of Asian World Cup qualifying a very tough road to traverse, that being said, Guam getting to this round was an achievement in itself. 

The tiny pacific island nation will greatly benefit from playing competitive matches against the likes of Syria, China, the Phillipines and the Maldives. When the draw was made, it was obvious it would prove to be difficult for Guam, but I believe they will be slightly irked about picking up no points at home against the Maldives, who Guam are likely to see as a similar sized nation, and at a similar stage of their development. 

Having a player sent off in that home match wouldn't have helped, Karl Dodd though is trying to blood a lot of younger players which Guam will be hoping will create better equipped players in the future because of the opportunity to compete against the countries they are now. No doubt it will hold them in good stead for future tournaments, because even if Guam improve a lot they will find it mightily  difficult to qualify for a World Cup. That is not to say that it is impossible, because nothing is impossible, but realistically Guam would be more likely to stand a chance of qualifying for the Asian Cup more than the World Cup. Guam will be seeking those small improvements year on year, and then eventually will want to start punching above their weight, giving teams a scare, and giving Asian Cup qualification and almighty bash. There is no reason why that shouldn't be a target for Guam to work towards as other small nations around the world have achieved success if planned well, or they stumble upon a golden generation.  


Taiwan


Taiwan went into World Cup qualifying with great hope, after being ranked higher than ever before, and finding themselves as a 3rd placed seeded team. Unfortunately Taiwan still ended up with a very tricky and difficult draw. That is because the 4th placed seeded team was Kuwait, and Kuwait were only ranked so low because of a ban from international football. 

The other sides in the group are Australia, Jordan and Nepal. Australia need no introduction, they have a plethora of players playing in top leagues around the world. Jordan, are a bit less known globally than Australia, but they performed very well in the 2019 Asian Cup in UAE, and are a very exciting team to watch who play very attacking football. 

Jordan also have the player of the season from the Cypriot league, which may not sound much to an American, or European audience, but compared to Taiwan's squad that is a big step up. Nepal on the other hand, are a team Taiwan should be performing better against. 

Jordan won narrowly in Taipei, 2-1 to get the ball rolling on Taiwan's World Cup campaign, that was followed up by a terrible 2-0 home defeat to Nepal, which was a crushing blow. Australia rolled into the southern city of Kaohsiung and left with a 7-1 victory. Ironically, that was Taiwan's best performance of qualifying despite the result. They really had a go at the Aussies, but ran out of steam when the goals came for Australia.

What really broke Taiwan, and ended the reign of Louis Lancaster though, was the double header in the Middle East, the planning seemed terrible, the team seemed to arrive very late in the Kuwait, I think only a day before the match. With no time at all to acclimatize, Taiwan were absolutely battered and lost 9-0. The local press, who up until this point mostly hadn't seemed to care, or be bothered about the national team, got their knives out after seeing the loss and were raging. 

A lot of criticism was thrown at Lancaster in the local press, what happened then they made the journey from Kuwait to Jordan didn't make things any better. Another poor performance, and a 5-0 defeat, meant that Taiwan's World Cup Middle East away double header finished with 14 goals conceded, 0 scored. Those two heavy defeats, and probably the loss to Nepal meant Lancaster was a goner. Taiwan have an away matches against Nepal and Australia and a home match against Kuwait remaining. If Taiwan are to stop finishing group stages with 0 points, the best chance of making that happen seems to be away in Nepal, but for that to happen, the CTFA need to learn from their terrible arrangements for arriving in the Middle East, because if you think you can rock up to a country at such altitude, play an international match, and come back with the win, then you're very mistaken. Taiwan will find it tough to find any points and will end up in the preliminary round of Asian Cup qualifying with Guam.


Hong Kong


Hong Kong can still effectively qualify for the World Cup if you look at the points only. Mathematically speaking it is still possible. Realistically speaking, Hong Kong are already out of the World Cup. There isn't a hope that they can overcome Iran and Iraq, and truthfully, that was thought as soon as the draw was made.

Mixu (Hong Kong manager) most likely had the same thoughts too, which explains why he has been extremely defensive throughout the campaign. The good news for Hong Kong though is that they have been slightly better than Cambodia, which means there is a better possibility they will not end up in the preliminary round of Asian Cup qualifying, like the other East Asian teams outside of the traditional big boys.

The best 4th placed finishers don't have to play in the qualifying round, but the worst 4 do. If Hong Kong are lucky, they may be able to squeak through in that spot, but as things stand right now, I believe Hong Kong will end up in the playoff round, but will find themselves as a seeded team, meaning in theory they should have an easier route through the playoff round. That isn't always the case though, and Hong Kong still face a very tough fight, like a lot of other East Asian nations in just getting into Asian Cup qualifying.


Japan


As one would expect, Japan have had no problems at all so far in this round of qualifying. The quality of their opponents (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Myanmar, and Mongolia) are no match at all for a Japanese side that are currently the best out of all in Asia in my opinion. I believe they are now performing better than Iran since Carlos Queiroz left.

Japan have not even conceded a goal in all of their 4 qualifying matches, scoring 13 goals in the process, which shows you how easily Japan can navigate this part of the qualifying process. There is no threat at all of Japan missing out on the next round.

Mongolia


Mongolia will feel justified in being at this stage of qualifying after being cheated out of the qualifying process last time around by East Timor's fake Brazilians who claimed they were eligible to represent them when they weren't.

Mongolia went into the group stage after squeaking past Brunei in the preliminary round, and in the group stage they even managed to defeat Myanmar. This was a historic result as Mongolia had never won a group stage match in their history of trying to do so. 

Since then Mongolia haven't picked up any points and will without a doubt be playing in the Asian Cup preliminary round instead of the third round of World Cup qualifying. Mongolia though, will go into that Asian Cup qualifying still delighted that they have now recorded a 2nd qualifying round win. 

South Korea


South Korea's group is tighter than anyone would have ever predicted when the draw was made. South Korea, North Korea, and Lebanon all sit on 8 points in the group, while Turkmenistan are sitting top right now on 9 points. The other side competing are Sri Lanka, but they are already eliminated from the World Cup and pose no threat to any team competing in Group H.

The big talk about this group, was South Korea's first visit to Pyongyang in donkeys years, but no one at all got to watch the match live because North Korea just frankly, outright refused permission, contrary to the rules. But when in North Korea, you do as you're bloody well told it seems, even FIFA and the AFC. Apparently the tackles from the North were a bit on the tasty side, but anyone who has watched them play in competitions will know they have played this way for years.

No one still really knows what happened in that match, even after the North released the highlights, and the quality was like an old VHS porno you would find in the back of a cupboard. The South seemed relieved to come out the game with no serious injuries, and with all the stories coming out about the nonsense that the North did to the South, then they were probably happy to come back with a point too.

The away match in Lebanon could prove to become more costly though, that is if Lebanon spring a surprise and do something when they play the return fixture in Korea. My prediction is that South Korea will do enough to defeat Lebanon on home soil, and the worry over dropping points away to them will vanish. North Korea also still have to travel to the South for the return fixture, as do Turkmenistan, so with mostly home fixtures to come, I believe South Korea will top the group with points to spare. 

North Korea


North Korea remain an enigma. Strong at home, as one would expect, don't travel well, also as one would expect. Defeating Lebanon and drawing with South Korea at home who are two of their strongest competitors shows how much of a fortress Pyongyang is for the North Koreans.

It is when they travel away, things go pear shaped for the boys from Pyongyang. They did get a narrow 1-0 victory away in Sri Lanka, but they are easily the weakest side in the group, other than that they took a pasting in Turkmenistan, losing 3-1. 

If North Korea want to have a chance of getting to the next round, and fighting their way to their first World Cup (fighting around the world like Joey Barton) since South Africa, then they desperately need to do something about their tragic away form.

Macau


Macau defeated Sri Lanka 1-0 in qualifying, and stood a chance to qualify for the second round for the first time in their history. That was until the Macau FA decided that they would refuse to travel to Sri Lanka after the terrorist attacks in the country. 

Even after assurances from Sri Lanka that they would have security at all times, even after the players said they would pay for their own insurance, the Macau FA still refused to travel to Sri Lanka. Some said it was because the Macau FA didn't want the team to proceed as they would not be able to afford the fixtures. We don't know if this is true or not, but it is one theory that was flying around at the time. 

Macau were adjudged to have forfeited their game by no show (some sunday league type stuff) and Sri Lanka were awarded a 3-0 win, meaning they advanced instead of Macau.

Northern Mariana Islands


Northern Mariana Islands are a part of the EAFF, and a part of the AFC, but are not a member of FIFA, and therefore do not compete in World Cup qualifying. They're probably more famous for Roy Keane spitting his dummy out in Saipan during the 2002 World Cup, but the powers that be in Northern Mariana Islands football are working hard to change that. 

They also give a lot of chances to younger players, when they played in the EAFF Championship, I believe they had the youngest squad there, so it is good for the players to get chances so young. 

So what this means in a nutshell is, NMI take no part in the World Cup qualifiers, but deserve a mention as being an EAFF member. 

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