The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is interesting: in terms of AFC 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification processes, the AFC qualifiers are nearly as large an undertaking as the UEFA qualifiers. For the 2018 World Cup qualifying competition, UEFA will have 52 teams battling across seven groups of six and two groups of five. AFC, meanwhile, currently has 39 teams competing throughout seven groups of five and one group of four. There would be 40 teams playing, but Indonesia are currently suspended from FIFA, and were therefore disqualified.
However, despite the comparable size of these divisions, there are 13 slots available in the final tournament for UEFA teams, and only 4.5 slots available for AFC teams. As a result, AFC qualification is a good deal more competitive and complicated than UEFA qualification, involving a longer process with numerous rounds. Needless to say, trying to predict which AFC teams will make it to the World Cup can be a challenging thing—particularly because no AFC team has ever won the prestigious soccer tournament. However, we are at least going to take a stab at trying to predict the outcome of the first round of the AFC qualification process, which is currently in progress.
Recent World Cup Entrants
Perhaps the best way to predict the likely outcome of the AFC qualifiers is to take a look at the AFC teams that were entrants in the past few World Cups. While the list of Asian teams that reach the World Cup tends to vary more than the list of UEFA teams, there is still value in recognizing which countries have played well in these qualifying stages within the past five or 10 years.
In 2014, AFC’s four World Cup squads were Australia, Iran, Japan, and South Korea. In 2010, the list included Australia, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea. And in 2006, the AFC was represented by Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea.
Based on those recent track records, the nations with the best chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia are Iran, Japan, South Korea, and Australia. These are also the four highest ranked AFC teams on the current FIFA world rankings, in the order just listed. United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and China are the next three teams listed.
The Group Stage
Needless to say, the World Cup qualifying groups featuring those top four teams will be the subject of extra interest as the 2018 FIFA event draws closer. Iran, for example, are featured in Group D—alongside Guam, Oman, Turkmenistan, and India. They are actually in third place in the group, having drawn with Turkmenistan in their first match. However, with seven soccer games remaining for each team, the standings in Group D—and every other qualifying group, for that matter—are subject to change.
That fact bodes well for the Japanese national football team, who are currently fourth in Group E after drawing with Singapore in their first match. That group also includes Syria, Afghanistan, and Cambodia.
Of the top AFC contenders, South Korea and Australia are the ones that have won their introductory matches in the qualifiers. South Korea, a part of Group G, beat Myanmar 2-0 in a June 16th away match, putting them above other group participants like Lebanon, Kuwait, and Laos. Australia, meanwhile, beat Kyrgyzstan 2-1 for a solid start in Group B. The group also includes Jordan, Tajikistan, and Bangladesh.
We’ll have to wait a bit longer to see if Iran, Australia, Japan, and South Korea are indeed the frontrunners to reach the 2018 World Cup from the AFC. After all, it’s still a long road before any of these teams will have secured a spot in the FIFA tournament, with the winners of each group (and the top four ranked runner-up teams) progressing to a two-group third round.
Cheer your favorite AFC football squad toward a group stage success, with a new jersey or two from Soccer Box! We have kits available for several Asian Football Confederation countries, including the Australia home jersey 2014 – 2015, the 2014 Japan home shirt, and more.