The draw for Round 2 of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia took place in Malaysia earlier today. Since India shot up the FIFA Rankings by 26 places recently (from 173 to 147), they were put in Pot 3 for the draw and have been drawn into Group D alongside Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan and Guam.
After India’s Round 1 victory over Nepal, they joined the 5 other victors in completing the 40 teams for the draw. These 40 teams were drawn into 8 groups of 5 teams each. The eight group winners and the four best runners-up will progress to Round 3 of the qualification process. The 12 teams will then further be divided into 2 groups of which the top 2 from each will qualify for FIFA World Cup 2018 and the best 3rd placed team will go onto the intercontinental play-off.
India certainly have a tough task ahead of them. Their mightiest opponent of the lot – Iran, are the highest ranked Asian country in the FIFA Rankings. In the World Cup in Brazil last year, they nearly held eventual finalists Argentina to a draw, only for their hearts to be broken by a moment of magic by Lionel Messi at the death. Iran will definitely be clear favourites and expected to top this particular group.
If India are to have any chances of making it through to the next stage, they will have to beat Turkmenistan (World Rank 159) and Guam (World Rank 175) and also hope to edge out Oman (World Rank 97) and gain the runners-up spot. It is a tough ask, but with the recent surge towards the revival of Indian Football by tournaments like the Indian Super League, there is definitely a lot of optimism among the players and also the fans.
Other highlights of the draw includes China being drawn alongside Hong Kong and also with the 2022 World Cup hosts, Qatar. Reigning Asian champions Australia will be tested by Jordan. Group A will be an interesting battle with UAE and Saudi Arabia aiming for the top spot. Rivals Thailand and Indonesia were drawn together along with top seed Iraq. Japan and Korea Republic will be expected to top their respected groups too.
The draw in full-
GROUP A – United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Timor-Leste, Malaysia
GROUP B – Australia, Jordan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh
GROUP C – China PR, Qatar, Maldives, Bhutan, Hong Kong
GROUP D – Iran, Oman, India, Turkmenistan, Guam
GROUP E – Japan, Syria, Afghanistan, Singapore, Cambodia
GROUP F – Iraq, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Chinese Taipei
GROUP G – Korea Republic, Kuwait, Lebanon, Myanmar, Laos
GROUP H – Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Philippines, DPR Korea, Yemen
The first round of matches will take place on 11th June, 2015. India will open their campaign with a home match against Oman.