Pakistan lie between Australia and a possible FIFA World Cup qualifying showdown with Keisuke Honda and Cambodia on the road to Qatar 2022.
Memories of Russia may still be fresh and other confederations may be looking towards continental competitions but not Asia.
On Wednesday morning in Kuala Lumpur, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) held a draw for the first round of qualification round that features 12 of the region’s weakest teams.
The two-legged ties will take place on June 6 and 11 and the six survivors will head to the second round to join the rest of the AFC, including Australia, in September.
Honda, the Melbourne Victory marquee and part-time coach of Cambodia, will fancy his team’s chances of getting to the next stage.
Pakistan, ranked 200 in the world, have played just a handful of games since elimination from qualification ahead of the 2018 World Cup four years ago. The federation was suspended by FIFA in 2017 for a period of almost six months after ‘third-party interference’ in the running of the game.
The game may not even go ahead as in recent years the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has been riven by division and a lengthy fight for control. President Faisal Saleh Hayat has withdrawn the team from various tournaments such as the qualifiers for the AFC U-23 Championships over the years.
It is also being reported in the country that FIFA will send a delegation to Pakistan at the end of May to look into the goings-on there. There are many who expect that visit to be the catalyst to another Pakistani no-show.
Perhaps the one to avoid is Malaysia, the top-ranked team of the dozen. The improving Tigers will take on Timor Leste in an all Southeast Asian affair. Mongolia will meet Brunei with Laos facing Bangladesh. Elsewhere, Bhutan and Guam duke it out with Sri Lanka, the lowest-ranked of all the teams down at 202, taking on Macau.
The second round will feature eight groups of five teams in which the winners and the four best runners-up will progress to the third round of qualification (and also will qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup) where places in Qatar will be up for grabs.