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Asia World Cup qualifier ignite confrontations of political foes as Japan pitched against North Korea; South Korea to face



Japan were drawn to face North Korea and Syria in Asia’s preliminaries for the 2026 World Cup on Thursday, while South Korea will face China and Thailand when the second round of the continent’s qualifiers kick off in November.

The Japanese will also take on the winners of a playoff between Myanmar and Macau, to be held over two legs on Oct. 12 and 17, while Korea’s group is completed by either Singapore or Guam.

Australia, who reached the knockout rounds at the 2022 World Cup before losing to eventual champions Argentina, will feature in Group I alongside Palestine, Lebanon and either the Maldives or Bangladesh.

FIFA’s decision to increase the size of the World Cup to 48 nations means Asia has been granted eight guaranteed berths plus a possible ninth spot at the finals available through a series of intercontinental playoffs.

Teams finishing in the top two positions in the nine groups drawn in Kuala Lumpur will advance to the third preliminary round, where three groups of six teams will compete for the World Cup spots.


Reigning Asian Cup holders Qatar, who hosted the 2022 World Cup, will face India, Kuwait and either Afghanistan or Mongolia in Group A while in Group E six-time World Cup qualifiers Iran face Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Hong Kong or Bhutan.

Iraq have been drawn in Group F alongside Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia or Brunei with Saudi Arabia headlining Group G with Jordan, Tajikistan and Cambodia or Pakistan.

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and either Yemen or Sri Lanka and Nepal or Laos compete in Group H.

Asian World Cup qualifying, First Round (to be played Oct. 12 and 17)

Afghanistan v Mongolia; Maldives v Bangladesh; Singapore v Guam; Yemen v Sri Lanka; Myanmar v Macau; Cambodia v Pakistan; Taiwan v Timor Leste; Indonesia v Brunei; Hong Kong v Bhutan; Nepal v Laos.


Second Round (matches to be played from November 2023 to June 2024)

Group A: Qatar, India, Kuwait, Afghanistan or Mongolia

Group B: Japan, Syria, North Korea, Myanmar or Macau

Group C: South Korea, China, Thailand, Singapore or Guam

Group D: Oman, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Taiwan or Timor Leste


Group E: Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Hong Kong or Bhutan

Group F: Iraq, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia or Brunei

Group G: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tajikistan, Cambodia or Pakistan

Group H: United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen or Sri Lanka, Nepal or Laos

Group I: Australia, Palestine, Lebanon, Maldives or Bangladesh


Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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