Kuala Lumpur: Twelve Asian nations discovered their opponents for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 1 on Tuesday.
Asia’s 12 lowest ranked sides – India, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Cambodia, Chinese Taipei, Timor Leste (ranked 35th to 40th by FIFA), Nepal, Macau, Pakistan, Mongolia, Brunei and Bhutan (ranked 41st to 46th by FIFA) – were involved in the draw at AFC House, with the India versus Nepal encounter arguably the pick of the six ties decided.
Always a keenly contested affair, the meeting of the two South Asian nations will have an added dimension in the form of returning India head coach Stephen Constantine who was in charge of Nepal from 1999 until 2001.
Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 1 Draw
India v Nepal
Yemen v Pakistan
Timor-Leste v Mongolia
Cambodia v Macau
Chinese Taipei v Brunei DS
Sri Lanka v Bhutan
The dozen hopefuls will now meet on March 12 and 17 as they attempt to progress to the next stage of qualifying, while the games will also see the Asian Football Confederation become the first governing body to begin qualifying for FIFA’s global extravaganza in Russia.
The six winners will advance to Round 2 where the 34 highest ranked teams await. The 40 nations will be drawn into eight groups of five teams and compete according to a double round robin format.
The Round 2 qualification matches will be held from June 11, 2015 to March 29, 2016.
The group winners and four best runners-up (total 12 teams) will advance to the 2019 Asian Cup finals and the final round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
The next best 24 teams from the preliminary stage of the joint qualifiers will compete in a separate competition for the remaining slots (12 slots or 11 slots + 1 slot for the host) in the 24-team 2019 Asian Cup finals.