On Wednesday in a nondescript neighbourhood in Kuala Lumpur, Australia’s road to the 2022 FIFA World Cup will begin.
WATCH the AFC Preliminary draw for the 2022 FIFA World Cup via The World Game website and app from 7pm (AEST) Wednesday night.
The second round of AFC qualifying will see the Socceroos as top seed in their group and favourites to take top spot (or finish in one of the four best runners-up places in the eight groups) in order to progress to the final group stage where the fun really begins.
The World Game takes a look at the best and worst-case scenarios in terms of toughness and travel.
Pot 2: Syria. Games against Syria can be an exercise in frustration, especially when you are the favourites. Too often, the Middle Eastern team can resort to time-wasting and negative tactics. Even if they don’t, there is the talent to hurt any team when they put their minds to it. It remains to be seen where the ‘home’ games would be played in this qualification campaign but there is sure to be revenge on Syrian minds after the play-off defeat last time around.
Pot 3: North Korea. While there is a fascination that surrounds a trip to Pyongyang, visiting football teams tend to find it quite dull with little or nothing to do except train. The team is a lot more unpredictable than the North Korea winters which are invariably long, cold and grey, and you never know which version will turn up. They are, however, well capable of getting a result at the Kim Il Sung stadium. DPRK love to frustrate fancied visitors.
Pot 4: Kuwait. The trip to this part of the Middle East is never easy with Kuwait’s ranking not a true reflection of the strength of the team as it has been negatively affected by the recent suspension by FIFA. The journey is long, the temperatures can be terrible and there is always talent among the ranks of what was an Asian powerhouse not all that long ago.
Pot 5: Mongolia.The country has dramatic scenery but the winters are longer than a Mat Ryan goal-kick with spring bringing sand storms. The locals would love a visit from Australia as it would help put the game, which is a fair way down the list of Mongolia’s favourite sports, among the headlines, but it would be a tricky trip especially if it came outside Mongolia’s short summer.
Pot 2: Vietnam. This would not be an easy test but the chance to play in front of 40,000 passionate fans in Hanoi would really get the juices flowing. Vietnam are a young team that is improving almost by the week and it would be fascinating to see how Australia measures up against the team that is now the best in Southeast Asia (sorry Thailand). It remains to be seen if the stumbling blocks in new contract negotiations with the popular head coach the ‘Korean Hiddink’ Park Hang-seo, affects Vietnam’s preparations.
Pot 3: Philippines. Perhaps the friendliest national team in Asia would also mark a relatively short trip for the Socceroos. The arrival of the 2015 continental champions would be a big deal in the archipelago. The Azkals are no pushovers, especially on home soil, but Australia would be looking at six points and a memorable couple of games.
Pot 4: The Maldives. Even the most grizzled of journalists would be pushing for their editors to sanction a trip to the beautiful island nation. The South Asians are not quite the force of old (the 0-0 draw with a shocked Korea Republic in qualification for the 2006 World Cup is still talked about on the streets of Male) but it would be a trip to remember.
Pot 5: Indonesia. The biggest nation in Southeast Asia is the highest-ranked team in the lowest pot but for Australia it would be a plumb tie. A competitive match in the iconic Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta is an unforgettable experience when it is full, or close to it, as it surely would be. It would also give the two federations a chance to chat about co-hosting 2034!