FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers

Earning Asia’s top 15 rank, Vietnam have chance to make history

Monday, 2019-06-24 18:22:15
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Vietnam has a great opportunity to advance to the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. (Photo: AFC)
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NDO – Recently, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has set time for the Asian qualifiers draw of the 2022 World Cup second preliminary qualifying round. Placing 15th place in the continent, the Vietnamese squad are ranked in the second seed group which results in a favourable opportunity to qualify for the third round of the World Cup Qualifiers for the first time in their history.

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Opportunities for Vietnam

According to AFC announcement, the Asian qualifiers draw for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Preliminary Competition and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 will be held on July 17 at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. According to the competition format, the six teams that go through the first qualifying round will join the 34 highest ranked teams in Asia to participate in the second qualifying round. The rankings of these 34 teams are based on the latest FIFA rankings announced on June 14.

In the second qualifiers, 40 Asian teams will be divided into five seed groups, each pot consisting of eight teams. AFC will conduct a draw to divide 40 teams into eight groups, including five teams each randomly selected from five different seed groups, of which the first group has eight of the top teams in Asia, the second is for the teams ranking from 9th-16th, the third group are those ranking from 17th-24th, pot 4 are for teams from 25th-32nd, and pot 5 has 33-34 ranked teams with six others who got through the first preliminary round.

The teams will compete in a double round robin format to select the top eight teams and the best four runner-up teams to qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup finals in China, as well as the Asian final qualifiers for the World Cup in Qatar 2022. The remaining 24 best teams from the second preliminary stage will continue to play in a separate round to compete for the remaining 12 tickets to the 24-team AFC Asian Cup China 2023. The second qualifying round of the 2022 World Cup will start from September 5 to June 9 next year.

Currently, only 39 teams are sure to be present in the second qualifying round of the 2022 World Cup. The final team will be decided in the return match between Macau (China) and Sri Lanka. In the first qualifying first leg, Macau won 1-0 at home, but they refused to play Sri Lanka's return leg on June 11, citing security reasons. Currently, the AFC has not made a final decision on this case yet and where the match will be played.

Pot seeding for the Asian qualifiers draw of the 2022 World Cup second preliminary qualifying round. (Photo: AFC)

Which scenario, for ”magic” Park?

For the national squad after a good performance since the beginning of 2019, with the Asian Cup quarter-finals berth and recently finishing second in the King's Cup in Thailand, coach Park Hang-seo’s side has risen to 96th in the world and 15th in Asia. This ranking helped "Golden Stars" book a slot in Pot 2 and thus have an advantage in the draw for the World Cup second qualifying round.

In principle, teams in the same seed group cannot be in the same qualifying group. Therefore, the Vietnamese team will inevitably avoid strong opponents who are in the same pot 2, including Iraq, Syria, Uzbekistan and Jordan. Coach Park and his players will only have to meet a very strong opponent in Asia’s top eight in pot 1, while the three remaining opponents in other lower pots are considered to be at the same level or weaker than Vietnam. The most "ideal" scenario may be that Vietnam only have to encounter China or UAE in pot 1, Chinese Taipei or Philippines in pot 3, Hong Kong (China) or Maldives in pot 4, and Bangladesh or Guam in pot 5.

Vietnamese players have showing great progress, as shown by their great achievements in tournaments the last two years, most recently the runners-up at of King's Cup 2019 in Thailand. (Photo: VFF)

Among the rivals in pot 1, the Vietnam team under Park Hang-seo have encountered, they even beat the very strong teams of Asia in the past tournaments, such as Asian Cup 2019, Asian Games 2018 and AFC U23 Championships 2018. In this pot, Iran – the continental top team, as well as Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and Qatar are all strong. Ideally, the scenario for Park will only have to be in a group with China. Marcelo Lippi's side have not achieved well recently and suffer from difficulties with their squad depth, as shown by the Italian strategist having to summon a naturalised player to strengthen their squad.

Therefore, it would be ideal if Vietnam can "avoid" other "heavy weights" and only have to encounter China in pot 1. The goal of Vietnam will be trying to gain at least one point when meeting power houses in the top pot, while winning many games against the opponents in the remaining pots to accumulate enough points needed for a minimum of one position in the group of four best second-place teams to progress.

Under the hands of “magic” Park, the Vietnamese team is gradually demonstrating their strength in the continental arena. (Photo: VFF)

In addition, it is also possible that Vietnam can meet their arch rivals Thailand (pot 3) in the 2022 World Cup second qualifying round, while also being able to face other great rivals in the Southeast Asia like Malaysia (pot 4) and Indonesia (pot 5). It is clear that the scenario for a group with up to four representatives from Southeast Asia is entirely possible. As the defending champions of AFF Suzuki Cup, surely the Vietnamese team will face difficulties when encountering competitors in the region, because football teams from Southeast Asia are now eager to meet the “Golden Stars”, especially the Thai team, as they have just been defeated in injury time against Park Hang-seo's side in the opening match of King's Cup 2019 right at home.

Waiting for a new miracle from

However, it can be affirmed that, standing in the top 15 in Asia and in pot 2 for the second qualifying draw of the 2022 World Cup is opening up great opportunities for Vietnam to win tickets to the final qualifying round. The focus now is what should Vietnam do to prepare carefully in less than three months before their second World Cup qualifying campaign begins. Currently, Vietnamese players are still focusing on playing in the V.League 2019 but in the next few months, Vietnamese football will enter a very important stage as at the same time both the senior national team and the U23 squad will focus on the different tasks in their World Cup 2022 qualifiers and the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, with a total of over 60 players expected to be summoned. This will be a great pressure for Park if he does not have assistant Kim Han-yoon to share with him in taking charge of U23 Vietnam, so Park only has to focus on leading Vietnam’ senior squad to play at World Cup qualifiers.

Currently the Korean strategist is touring all over the fields across the country to scout the best players for the team for the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign. In addition to the squad that have worked with Park during past campaigns, some issues related to star midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai's form, poor performances of the attacking line, or unwanted injuries of several key players like defender Dinh Trong and attacking midfielder Phan Van Duc are causing headaches for Park. Therefore, it is likely that there will be new faces to be called upon in the upcoming future, not to exclude several overseas Vietnamese players who are possible to be called up by Park.

Coach Park Hang-seo is favoured by fans to continue leading the “Golden Stars” to new heights in the 2022World Cup qualifiers. (Photo: VFF)

Since integrating back into the top level of world football in the World Cup qualifiers in 1994, until now, the Vietnamese team has not ever reached the third qualifying round i.e. the final qualifying round of any World Cup qualifiers. However, with the presence of "magic" Park, Vietnamese football has witnessed multiple unprecedented miracles. It is no coincidence that Vietnam U23s reached the final of the AFC U23 Championships in 2018, as well as a top four finish in the Asian Games last year. It is also no coincidence that the Vietnamese national team could break into the 2019 Asian Cup quarterfinals. With the foundation of the successes from youth football at all levels, in addition to Park's strategic talents, Vietnamese football has made great progress in a short time.

In general, there is no need for a bit of luck at the upcoming draw, only for the place in pot 2 gives Park’s side a great chance to make history - helping Vietnamese football to qualify for the third qualifying round of a World Cup for the first time. With a foundation of young players who have played together for many years, combined with a lot of experienced key players, as well as additions from promising young talents, Vietnamese fans have good reason to believe in a new miracle of the “Golden Stars.”