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The Usual Suspects Take Control Of World Cup Qualifying In Asia

With only three matches remaining in AFC World Cup qualifying, things are shaping up as usual for the confederation.

Matchday seven has passed in Asian 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification, and the usual suspects have emerged as favorites to gain passage to Russia. Iran and South Korea control their own destinies in securing Group A’s automatic qualification spots, while Japan, Saudi Arabia and Australia are vying for the top two positions in Group B.

The only real surprise is Uzbekistan’s standing of third in Group A, meaning that a country that’s never been to a World Cup before is on course for the playoff against Group B’s third place side.

Iran’s 1-0 victory over China today put them on the brink of automatic qualification while all but eliminating the Chinese. Nearly 100,000 spectators at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran watched Iran move towards their fifth World Cup finals.

South Korea’s 1-0 victory over Syria, who’ve played heroically throughout qualifying despite playing their home matches in Malaysia, looks to have ended the Syrian dream while stabilizing the Reds shaky qualifying campaign.

In Group B, both Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki were on target for Japan in their 4-0 victory over Thailand, moving the Samurai Blue to the top of the table.

Saudi Arabia and Australia are level on 13 points after Australia’s 2-0 victory over the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia will play Iraq later today.

Historically, South Korea (9), Japan (5), Iran (4), Saudi Arabia (4) and Australia (2) have most frequently represented Asia at the World Cup, and that almost certainly appears to be the case in 2018. 

For the outsiders, the 48-team 2026 World Cup can’t come quick enough.

The playoff between the third place sides in Group A and Group B will be of special interest to the CONCACAF region. The winner of that match will play the fourth place finisher in the CONCACAF Hexagonal, a much more difficult task than playing the Oceanian’s usual representative New Zealand.