A breakdown of the 2018 World Cup qualifying groups in Asia


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Gordon Savic, head of FIFA World Cup & Olympic Qualifiers displays a draw for Japan during 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Asian qualifiers preliminary qualification round 2 in Kuala Lumpur on April 14, 2015. Photo: AFP Gordon Savic, head of FIFA World Cup & Olympic Qualifiers displays a draw for Japan during 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Asian qualifiers preliminary qualification round 2 in Kuala Lumpur on April 14, 2015. Photo: AFP


The combined second round qualifying draw for 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup took place in Malaysia on Tuesday. Here is a breakdown of Groups A-D; E-H.
Group A
The improving United Arab Emirates and traditional Asian powerhouse Saudi Arabia are sure to fight it out for top spot.
The Saudis, who have qualified for four World Cups, have had the better of clashes between the two but have struggled of late with the constant chopping and changing of coaches.
The Emiratis have improved sharply with a core group of young players, led by head coach Mahdi Ali, and finished third at the Asian Cup in January after knocking out the holders Japan.
Malaysia and Palestine should pose problems for the big two at home but will likely be battling for third place in the group. East Timor beat Mongolia in the first round and are competing at this stage
Group B
Asian champions Australia face some lengthy journeys across Asia and will not enjoy returning to Jordan, where they were beaten 2-1 in the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Jordan went on to lose to Uruguay in the intercontinental playoff but failed to build on that with a dire run under former England captain Ray Wilkins, who left after the group stage at the Asian Cup.
They still have a core group of talented players but need to find the solid organisation and high intensity that troubled the Australians before.
Long trips to central Asia to face Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for the first time should not pose on field problems for the Socceroos.
Jordan lost to Kyrgyzstan in the 2010 qualifiers but should have too much for them this time around. Bangladesh will be grateful for the regular matches but are likely to make little impression.
Group C
China's young team against Qatar's naturalised talent will be the battle for top spot in Group C.
China won admirers at the Asian Cup with the team developing well under Frenchman Alain Perrin and reaching the quarter-finals, unlike Qatar who had a disastrous tournament and exited at the group stage.
Qatar boast the better record in a relatively even head-to-head, winning the last contest 2-0 at the 2011 Asian Cup and are desperate to prove they can compete against the best ahead of staging the 2022 tournament.
The Maldives may well be one of the world's most beautiful holiday destinations but travelling can be tough in and around the islands. The Afghanistan team complained of sea sickness during last year's AFC Challenge Cup and were also involved in a traffic accident.
Bhutan, happy to have ditched the "world's worst tag" after beating Sri Lanka in the last round should offer little resistance against Qatar and China, who they have never enjoyed the best of political relations with. Hong Kong, seeded five in the group, could threaten for third spot.
Group D
Asia's top ranked side Iran will be happy with their draw after being pitched against inferior sides in relative close proximity, Guam aside.
Oman are likely to take second in the group but lack the fire power in attack to trouble Iran, even if Carlos Queiroz is no longer coach.
India will have another shot at removing the tag of "sleeping giant" under the guidance of Englishman Stephen Constantine. His compatriot, Gary White, will push them for third after making strong inroads since taking charge of Guam.
Turkmenistan have never lost to Iran, beating them twice in four matches. The last a 1-0 win in Tehran in 1996. A repeat would be a huge shock for a side ranked 159th in the world.
Group E
Four-times Asian champions Japan will be delighted with their Group E draw, with the scrap for second an open contest amongst the much weaker four.
Syria look best placed to take the runners-up spot after some decent recent results, including wins over Jordan and Malaysia, but the war has ravaged the sport in the country.
Singapore have stuttered badly under Bernd Stange, but did beat the Syrians 2-1 at home in Asian Cup qualifying last year and will be confident of beating Cambodia, the joint worst ranked side at 179 in the Asian draw.
Afghanistan were 2013 South Asian champions and should battle Singapore for third spot in the group.
Group F
Southeast Asian champions Thailand will be eyeing a first World Cup finals appearance after being handed a kind draw.
Their talented young team, with the creative Chanathip Songkrasin dubbed Messi Jay providing the passes for deadly striker Teerasil Dangda, showed in winning the Suzuki Cup last year they have the measure of local rivals Indonesia and Vietnam.
Iraq, Asian champions in 2011, finished fourth in the Asian Cup but local politics often hampers qualifying campaigns and whether the same squad and coaching staff continue their good work remains to be seen.
Their home matches are likely to be played in Qatar.
Vietnam should push for third, with little expected of Taiwan, while Indonesian may not even take part following threats of a ban from FIFA over a dispute that has halted the domestic league.
Group G
South Korea face a return trip to Lebanon, scene of an embarrassing 1-0 defeat in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
That Koreans staggered through that campaign to make Brazil but should have little trouble this time with the Lebanese having gone backwards following a match-fixing scandal that broke not long after that famous win.
The Koreans scrapped a 1-0 win over Kuwait en route to finishing runners-up in the Asian Cup and would probably have preferred to have skipped another long trip to the Middle East.
Kuwait should have too much for Lebanon, while Laos will just be hoping to keep the scores respectable having lost 9-0 to the Koreans in 2000.
Myanmar should fair slightly better but are hampered by not being able to play home matches after crowd trouble in the 2014 qualifying campaign.
Group H
Uzbekistan and Bahrain will fight it out for top spot in an even group where even the lowest ranked side Yemen will feel confident of taking points against the pool's best.
North Korea will prove a problematic away trip for all with their stout defensive play resulting in a strong home record but whether they have enough confidence to attack on the road remains a question over their qualifying hopes.
Yemen will be playing home matches on neutral territory once again but are capable of strong results, having held Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar to draws last year.
Philippines may come unstuck against sterner opposition than they have faced in recent years.
Uzbekistan will be hoping after several near misses they can finally make a World Cup appearance but much will depend on the ageing Server Djeparov to provide the creative spark for a talented if mentally frail side.

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