13 September 2005

World Cup Qualifying: Asia and Oceania

There were some interesting Champions League games today, but I want to avoid commenting yet. After all, these are just the first games of the group stage; there's a lot of soccer left to play.

So let me turn back to World Cup qualifying. All the regions are down to two games or less, followed by a few inter-region playoffs. I've given updates previously on the status in CONCACAF (North American and the Carribbean) and Europe. Let me turn to a couple of the less-known regions: Asia and Oceania.


This region is virtually done. There are eight teams in two groups. The top two teams from each group qualify, while the third-place teams have a playoff with each other. The winner of that playoff then has to play against the fourth-place CONCACAF nation.

The group stage is done. The four teams to qualify are Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and South Korea. These aren't too big a surprise, especially Japan and South Korea, after their fine performances as joint home teams in 2002. Saudi Arabia was also in that tournament, while Iran is replacing China, who lost in the previous group stage. They faced Kuwait in their group, and lost by the thinnest of margins. Both teams were equal on points and goal differential; they each won 1-0 against the other at home. Kuwait went through because they scored 15 goals overall, opposed to 14 for China. A cruel disappointment for China, but their poor performance in 2002 will leave few neutrals disappointed in the change: they had an aggregate score of 0-9 in their 3 matches.

So that's four through. The last two teams competing for a spot are Uzbekistan and Bahrain. They played their first match last week, but as I've blogged before, the game will be replayed. (Update: Japanese referee Toshimitsu Yoshida has been suspended indefinitely. No surprise there.)

So they'll do it again. Given the quality of the teams, my guess is that the fourth-place CONCACAF team will ultimately go through, but we'll see how things play out.


Poor Oceania — the region nobody loves. They get no qualifiers of their own; the best Oceania team still must face a playoff against the fifth-place team from South America. How demaning is that?

At any rate, we know who gets that (dis)honor: Australia. They defeated the Solomon Islands with a brutal 9-1 aggregate score, including a 7-0 win at home. So now they must wait for the final South American qualifying games, to find out who they will face.

So that's the scoop. Compared to Europe, the picture is completely settled, with four teams qualified, one ready for an inter-region playoff, and two teams still battling for the right to another playoff. Next we'll look at South America. Maybe we can tell who Australia will face.

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