There are 370 days to go before the World Cup kicks off in South Africa. The Asians will be the second region to finish their qualifying schedule. If you are curious Oceania finished theirs quite some time ago with New Zealand emerging as the top team. New Zealand will face off against the 5th place Asian team in October. In twelve days time we will know the identity of four teams representing Asia. Asian qualifying has two groups each of five teams the two top teams from each group will advance. The two third placed teams will have a playoff and the winner of that playoff will meet New Zealand in October.
The teams competing in Group One are Australia (13 points), Japan (11 points), Bahrain (7 points), Uzbekistan (4 points), & Qatar (4 points). Australia & Iran both have three matches remaining while the other teams have two. Australia need to get only a point from their match against Qatar tomorrow. The Qataris will hope to use home field advantage to keep their hopes of third place alive, however the Socceroos should manage at least a point to become the first country to qualify for the World Cup. Looks like their decision to switch conferences has paid off. Japan face the difficult task of traveling to Uzbekistan, who drew them in Japan, for their next match. Because of this I think that the Uzbeks will get a win postponing Japanese qualification until they host Qatar on the 10th of June. I think that Japan will defeat Qatar which means that Japan can book their ticket to South Africa, while Qatar is eliminated from the World Cup. The battle for third is between Bahrain & Uzbekistan and they play a crucial match on the 17th of June in Bahrain this match will determine which of these teams advances to the playoff. I think that it will be Uzbekistan that emerges from this group in third.
Group Two features South Korea (11 points), North Korea (10 points), Saudi Arabia (10 points), Iran (7 points), & United Arab Emirates (1 point). The South Koreans & the Iranians both have three matches remaining while the other sides have two. The Emirates are already eliminated from qualifying. Due to the congestion of the teams at the top no team can secure qualification from the round of matches on June 6th. However I am backing the Taeguk Warriors of South Korea to qualify at home to Saudi Arabia on the 10th. I think that the North Koreans will secure their berth in South Africa away to the Saudis on the final day. You may have noticed that I don't have the Saudis winning either of their remaining matches, which is why I think that Iran will just pip them for the playoff place.
So the playoff will be between Iran & Uzbekistan. Playoffs can go either way, but I think that the surprising Uzbeks will continue their great run and advance to face New Zealand. In the playoff for the World Cup spot, I feel that the edge has to go to the Asian side. However if the Kiwis are able to advance to the second round of the Confederations Cup, I think that they will be confident that they can advance. That said I think that I am still going to have to pick Uzbekistan to join the Koreas, Japan, & Australia in South Africa.
Hopefully I will get the European preview up later today, Cheers