Asian Qualification Process For the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the 2023 Asia Cup in China

Published by the South Asia Journal on the 17th of November 2019

I added a significant amount of the calculations on the 2nd of April, 2021

The Qualification Process, which started in 2019, is a combined process for both the Asia Cup in 2023 and the World Cup in 2022. 24 teams go to the 2023 Asia Cup and either 5 or 4 go to the 2022 World Cup. This does not include Qatar who, as the hosts, are already qualified for the World Cup.

The Asian Football Federation or AFC is currently headquartered in Kaula Lumpur and is made up of the following Regional Federation components:

The West Asian Football Federation or WAFF which includes the following nations; Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

The Central Asian Football Federation or CAFA which includes these nations; Afghanistan, Iran, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.

The South Asian Football Federation or SAFF, which includes; Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The Association of South East Asian Nations Football Federation or ASEAN Football Federation, which are the nations of Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.

Finally, the East Asian Football Federation of EAFF; which are the nations of Peoples’ Republic of China, Chinese Taipei, Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, Guam, Hong Kong, Japan, Korean Republic, Macau, Mongolia and the Northern Mariana Islands. These nations total 47 in number but in this competition the Northern Mariana Islands chose not to compete as they are not a member nation of FIFA.

Thus, there were 46 teams in Asia, and of these the first 34 best placed Asian teams are given a bye into Round 2; with the remaining 12 paired off into 6 pairs: each playing a home-and-away tie with their opponent; which constitutes Round 1. The aggregate score from each pair is then the determining factor as to which 6 proceed to Round 2.

The mechanism by which the pairing is determined in Round 1 is by each of the 12 teams being placed in ranking order from high to low and this list of 12 is then divided into 4, with the top 3 in List 1, teams 4, 5 and 6 in List 2. Teams ranked 7, 8 and 9 are placed in List 3 and 10, 11 and 12 in List 4.

Team 1 in List 1 plays Team 1 in List 4. Team 2 in List 1 plays Team 2 in List 4. Team 3 in List 1 plays Team 3 in List 4. Then Team 1 in List 2 plays Team 1 in List 3. Team 2 in List 2 plays Team 2 in List 3. Team 3 in List 2 plays Team 3 in List 3.

How that is worked out is as follows: The first number is the ranking within the list and the 3 digit number is the FIFA Ranking at the time of the draw on the 4th of April, 2019. The 2 digit number is the team’s ranking within Asia.

— List 1 —
1 — 168 — 35 Malaysia
2 — 173 — 36 Cambodia
3 — 183 — 37 Macau
— List 1 —

— List 2 —
4 — 184 — 38 Laos
5 — 186 — 39 Bhutan
6 — 187 — 40 Mongolia
— List 2 —

— List 3 —
7 — 188 — 41 Bangladesh
8 — 193 — 42 Guam
9 — 194 — 43 Brunei
— List 3 —

— List 4 —
10 — 195 — 44 Timor-Leste
11 — 200 — 45 Pakistan
12 — 202 — 46 Sri Lanka
— List 4 —

Team 1 List 1 (Malaysia) played Team 1 List 4 (Timor-Leste)
Team 2 List 1 (Cambodia) played Team 2 List 4 (Pakistan)
Team 3 List 1 (Macau) played Team 3 List 4 (Sri Lanka)

Team 1 List 2 (Laos) played Team 1 List 3 (Bangladesh)
Team 2 List 2 (Bhutan) played Team 2 List 3 (Guam)
Team 3 List 2 (Mongolia) played Team 3 List 3 (Brunei)

The teams in List 1 and List 2 played their respective first rounds at home. You would expect the teams in List 1 and List 2 to qualify from Round 1; which they all did except for Macau, Bhutan and Laos. Macau were reluctant to play their away leg in Sri Lanka due to the 2019 Easter Bombings on the island nation and Bangladesh won in Vientaine and then held Laos to a goal-less draw at home in Dhaka. Bhutan lost heavily in Dededo, and Guam correspondingly went through.

So, the 6 teams that went through from Round 1 in their ranking order were as follows:

Sri Lanka

Tim Cahill-FIFA-2022 Draw
2022 World Cup/ 2023 Asia Cup Draw on the 17th of July 2019 at Kaula Lumpur

In Round 2, the 40 teams, (34 plus the 6 from Round 1), are then placed into 8 groups of 5 teams each. The process of determining which team is placed in which group is based on rankings within Asia. The seeding for the 8 groups lists teams from high to low. The first 8 are the top seeds for each group, i.e., groups A to H. The teams ranked from 9 to 16 are put in a pile called Pot 2. 17 to 24 in Pot 3. 25 to 32 in Pot 4. Pot 5 has teams ranked 33 and 34 plus all the 6 teams from Round 1.

These first 8 teams are now the top seeds within their respective groups.

The top seeds are fairly simple to allocate. (They are the top 8 Asian teams each randomly assigned a group letter). The second ranked team for each group is then chosen from Pot 2 by random lottery whereby a group letter is called and a team from Pot 2 is assigned by random choice to that group. This continues for the 3rd placed seed from Pot 3 and so on and so forth until all the remaining 4 spots for each group have been filled.

The top 8 nations in Asia in their ranking order were as follows: The alphabetic letter indicates the group that each team was randomly assigned to. It shows that, for example, although Iran is the best ranked team in Asia they were not assigned to Group A but rather it was China PR. Japan as the 2nd highest Asian ranked team was assigned to Group F and the last group, Group H was assigned to the 3rd highest ranked Asian team; the Korean Republic.

The Group Allocations began with China PR being allocated Group A as the top seed. Group B was allocated to Australia as the top seed. Group C was given to Iran. Group D was allocated to Saudi Arabia. Group E was given to Qatar. Group F was assigned to Japan as the top seed. Group G was to the UAE and finally, Group H was allocated to the Korean Republic.

C Iran
F Japan
H Korean Republic
B Australia
E Qatar
D Saudi Arabia
A China Peoples’ Republic

Pot 2 held the next 8 best ranked Asian teams 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 as follows; with their group allocation.

C Iraq
A Syria
D Uzbekistan
H Lebanon
E Oman
F Kyrgyz Republic
B Jordan
G Vietnam

From Pot 2, the allocations for the 2nd seeded teams for each group were, for Group A it is Syria. Group B is Jordan. Group C is Iraq. Group D is Uzbekistan. Group E is Oman. Group F is Krygyzstan. Group G is Vietnam and finally, Group H is Lebanon.

Pot 3 held the Asian teams ranked 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 in their ranked order with their group allocations.

From Pot 3 we have the following rankings for the 3rd seeds in each group as follows: Group A has the Philippines. Group B has Chinese Taipei. Group C has Bahrain. Group D has Palestine. Group E has India. Group F has Tajikistan. Group G has Thailand and Group H has the Korean DPR.

D Palestine
E India
C Bahrain
G Thailand
F Tajikistan
H Korean DPR
A Philippines
B Chinese Taipei

Pot 4 held the Asian teams ranked 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 and 32 as follows:

From Pot 4 for the 4th seeded teams in each group are the following:– Group A has the Maldives. Group B has Kuwait. Group C holds Hong Kong. Group D has Yemen. Group E has Afghanistan. Group F has Myanmar. Group G has Indonesia and finally, Group H has Turkmenistan.

H Turkmenistan
F Myanmar
C Hong Kong
D Yemen
E Afghanistan
A Maldives
B Kuwait
G Indonesia

Pot 5 contained the teams ranked 33, 34 plus the 6 from Round 1 in their respective ranked order with group allocation.

For the 5th and final seeds from Pot 5 are the following allocations. For Group A it is Guam. For Group B it is Nepal. Group C has Cambodia. Group D has Singapore. Group E has Bangladesh. Group F has Mongolia. Group G has Malaysia and finally, Group H has Sri Lanka.

D Singapore
B Nepal
G Malaysia
C Cambodia
F Mongolia
E Bangladesh
A Guam
H Sri Lanka

So if we now list the teams in each group in their seeding order we get the following:

Group A
China PR

Group B
Chinese Taipei

Group C
Hong Kong

Group D
Saudi Arabia

Group E

Group F

Group G

Group H
Korean Republic
Korean DPR
Sri Lanka

(On the 16th of May, 2021, the DPRK withdrew from the 2022 FIFA World Cup)

Due to the Global Corona Epidemic, the final games of each Group are being played in one country, starting June 2021. The Host Nations for each Group are as follows below:

Group A — China PR

Group B — Kuwait

Group C — Bahrain

Group D — Saudi Arabia

Group E — Qatar

Group F — Japan

Group G — UAE

Group H — Korean Republic

Now, once we have the group allocations and we take a step back and have a look, we see that in

Group A the teams ranked 8, 10, 23, 30 and 42 are grouped together.

Group B has teams ranked 4, 15, 24, 31 and 34 grouped together.

Group C has teams ranked 1, 9, 19, 27 and 36 grouped as a unit.

Group D has teams ranked 7, 11, 17, 28 and 33 grouped together.

Group E has teams ranked 5, 13, 18, 29 and 41 grouped as one.

Group F has teams ranked 2, 14, 21, 26 and 40 grouped together.

Group G has teams ranked 6, 16, 20, 32 and 35 grouped in an unit.

Group H has teams ranked 3, 12, 22, 25 and 46 grouped together.

Once all the teams in each of the 8 groups are duly placed, they then play a round-robin tournament where each team within a group plays every other team in a home-and-away schedule. This leads to each team having to play 8 games within Round 2. The group seedings are calculated in a manner that ensures that the top seed in any group cannot have a team ranked higher than them in the FIFA Rankings Table within that group. So, although China PR is ranked 8th in Asia, they were assigned to Group A and there is no team ranked higher than them in that group.

The 8 group winners plus the 4 best 2nd placed teams automatically qualify for the 2023 Asia Cup in the Peoples’ Republic of China. (This constitutes a total of 12 teams from the final 24 that will eventually play in that tournament). These initial 12 play no further part in the Asian Cup Qualification Process.

Round 2 continues with 2 sets of PlayOffs which consists of all (as in the 8), 5th placed teams from each group of Round 2 plus the 4 worst 4th placed teams. These 12 teams are paired into 6 groups, where each play a set of 2 games in a home-and-away leg. The 6 winners of each pair of the first set of Round 2 Playoffs then qualify for Round 3. The 6 losers are then paired amongst each other into 3 pairs for the second set of Round 2 Playoffs, where the two best winners in the home and way series are then selected to go onto Round 3. This makes a total of 8 teams that go onto Round 3, (6 from the first set of Round 2 Playoffs and 2 from the second set of Round 2 Playoffs).

The initial Playoff pairing is as follows: the 12 are ranked in order of their position within Asia and this list is cut into 2 halves, with the top half being rank 1 to 6 and the bottom half being rank 7 to 12. Rank 1 then plays Rank 7, 2 plays 8, 3 plays 9, 4 plays 10, 5 plays 11 and 6 plays 12.

The method above is akin to the method used in Round 1 of determining playing pairs except that List 1 is paired with List 3 instead of List 4 and List 2 is paired with List 4 instead of with List 3.

In Round 3, there are 24 teams, which are the 8 qualifiers from Round 2 PlayOffs and 16 from the direct Round 2. Those 16 are all the 3rd placed teams from Round 2, (a total of 8), along with the 4 worst 2nd placed teams from Round 2 in addition to the 4 best ranked teams in 4th place from Round 2.

These 24 are then placed into 6 groups of 4 teams each. Every team within a group play each other twice in a home-and-away fixture, for a total of 6 games for each team. The top 2 teams from each group are the final 12 who will then join the 12 qualifiers from Round 2 and proceed to play in the 2023 Asia Cup in China.

The seeding for Round 4 follow the same pattern as for Round 2; where the 24 are ranked in order as to their standing within Asia from amongst themselves. The top 6 are allocated a Group letter from A to F. 7 to 12 in Pot 2. 13 to 18 in Pot 3. 19 to 24 in Pot 4. The 2nd seed for each group is selected from Pot 2 by first calling a group letter and randomly assigning a team from Pot 2 to that letter. The same with Pot 3 for the 3rd seed of each group and Pot 4 for the 4th seeds. Thus ends the 2023 Asia Cup qualification process.

So, in summary, the 8 Group Winners and the 4 best placed 2nd teams, (12 in total), automatically qualify for the Asia Cup and take no further part in the Asian Cup Qualification process. They instead prepare for the 2022 World Cup Qualification process. The 8 teams ranked 3rd in their Round 2 groups plus the 4 teams that were ranked the 4 worst 2nd ranked teams in Round 2 along with the best 4 4th placed teams, (a total of 16 teams), do not take part in Round 3 but come back instead for Round 4. Round 3 is played by the 8 5th ranked teams from Round 2 plus the 4 worst 4th placed teams from Round 2. This gives an opportunity to the 5th ranked teams from the Round 2 groups to still have a chance to qualify for the Asia Cup.

The maximum number of games a team from Asia would have to play in order to qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup would be 2 in Round 1, 8 in Round 2, 2 in Round 3, 6 in Round 4 for a total of 18. The minimum would be 8 in Round 2.

The Qualification for the 2022 World Cup is now from amongst those teams that qualified from Round 2.

Since Qatar has already qualified for the World Cup by virtue of being the hosts, the 12 teams are from the following possibilities. If Qatar wins their Group E then the 7 group winners from Groups A, B, C, D, F, G and H, (not Group E as Qatar is in Group E) plus the best 5 2nd placed teams from Round 2 make up the 12 for the next round of World Cup Qualification. If Qatar comes second in their group and is also amongst the best 4 2nd placed teams then it will be the 8 Group Winners plus the 3 best placed 2nd teams chosen without including Qatar, plus the best 2nd placed team from amongst the worst 4 2nd ranked teams from Round 2. If Qatar comes 2nd in Group E and is among the 4 worst 2nd placed teams from Round 2 then it will be the 8 Round 2 winners plus the 4 best 2nd placed teams from Round 2 making up the 12. Regardless of the outcome, from Qatar’s point of view they no longer take part in the World Cup Qualification Process after Round 2 but will instead play as a series of 10 friendly home and away matches versus members of European Qualification Group A as an additional member, plus 3 matches as a guest at the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup in the United States. along with matches in the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup and friendlies versus Costa Rica, Ghana, South Korea, and the Kirin Challenge versus Japan.

The final 12 teams are placed in 2 groups of 6 teams each and play a round-robin home-and-away schedule of fixtures within each group, consisting of 10 games in total for each team, (5 home games and 5 away games). The allocation of teams to a group is by very simply ranking the 12, again in order from high to low based on their standing within Asia, and then assigning teams ranked 1, 2 to Pot 1, teams ranked 3, 4 to Pot 2, teams ranked 5, 6 to Pot 3, teams ranked 7, 8 to Pot 4, teams ranked 9, 10 to Pot 5 and finally teams ranked 11 and 12 to Pot 6. From each Pot a team is chosen randomly for either Group A or Group B until all the 6 Pots have been selected.

The top 2 from each group, (a total of 4), automatically qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the 2 3rd placed teams play each other twice in a home-and-away draw. The winner of the 3rd placed play-off then has to play in the Inter-Confederation PlayOffs in a home-and-away process. If they win then they go to the World Cup as the possible 5th Asian team with Qatar as the 6th Asian team, being as Qatar are the Asian host. If they do not, than there are just 4 teams from Asia, with Qatar as the host Asian nation being the 5th.

The InterConfederation PlayOffs will be between the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) winner, the 5th placed team from the CONMEBOL or CONfederacion SudaMEricana de FutBOL, or the South American Football Confederation, the 4th placed team from the CONCACAF or CONfederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football. These 4 teams will be placed into 2 groups of 2 teams each. They will play a home and away combination and the winners of each group will be the final 2 teams that qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. As of April, 2021, the process of determining as to how the 4 teams will be grouped is yet undecided.

There will be 32 teams competing in the 2022 World Cup.

So of the 46 Asian teams, almost 50% or 24 will go to China and just about 10%, (either 4 or a maximum of 5) will go to the World Cup. This is similar to the 10% or 5 nations out of 55 nations from the African Continent. Yet 25% or 13 out of 55 European nations will qualify, 40% or 50% or between 4 to 5 nations from 10 South American nations, 3 or 4 from 35 nations from North, Central America and the Caribbean which is 10% again and possibly 1 from 11 Oceania nations.

The final composition at the World Cup is then 13 out of 32 nations from Europe or 40% of the total. Of the remaining 19, (32 – 13), places left available, 5 out of 32 nations or 15% of the total is from the African Continent, 4 or 5 are given to the nations from South America, 3 or 4 from North, Central and the Caribbean nations, 4 or 5 from Asia. Asia, with 46 nations is given the same number of slots as the 10 nations from South America. Asia, also with 46 nations is just 9 nations less than the 55 nations of Europe, yet the Europeans get 13 slots and Asia gets just 4 and have to go through another round for the possiblity of a 5th slot. What are the chances of an Asian nation winning the World Cup? It is close to nil. Although at this World Cup there will be a minimum of 5, (the 4 AFC or Asian Football Confederation qualifiers plus Qatar), and possibly a maximum of 6 Asian nations, (4 AFC qualifiers plus 1 if an Asian team wins their InterConfederation PlayOffs from amongst the 2 PlayOffs being played, plus; ofcourse Qatar), thereby slightly increasing the odds in Asia’s favour.

It is interesting to note that India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are placed together in the same group, (Group E). Bangladesh, (ranked 41 in Asia), had to qualify from Round 1 and held India, (ranked 18th in Asia), to a remarkable draw in Kolkata and Afghanistan, (ranked 29th), also held the 18th ranked nation to a draw in Dushanbe. Afghanistan play their home matches in Tajikistan due to the crippling conditions in their homeland forced upon them by Imperialist aggression.

The Asian qualification process is the most complicated and arduous amongst the 6 football federations.

With the Indian Republic being coached by Igor Stimac, who played as a midfield defender in the brilliant Croatian team that came 3rd in the 1998 World Cup in Paris, the All India Football Federation can look forward to being present in China. Although the chances of being at Qatar are currently extremely slim, the Republic’s footballing future has been brightened under the guiding light of the magnificence of Igor Stimac.


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