Path to FIFA World Cup Qualification: The Asian Landscape

The Socceroos have made it to the next stage of qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but which other countries await them? And which teams are providing the shock value throughout the AFC?

The monthly unveiling of the FIFA World Ranking invariably provides little more than discussion fodder for football-s chattering classes to share their views with like-minded fans, however the next edition will be of crucial importance to Asia-s Round 4 draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

To be released on March 7, put back from its original date of February 15, the forthcoming FIFA World Ranking will be used to seed Asia-s ten remaining teams, vying for four automatic qualification berths in the final stage of qualifying for Brazil 2014.

In short, Asia-s ten qualified nations will be ranked 1-10 based on the FIFA World Ranking. The teams will be split into two groups of five with the draw determined by a basic principle of one team each from positions 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 and 9-10 going into the two groups.

Socceroo fans can rest easy in terms of a top-two seeding with Australia and Japan well clear of Korea Republic amongst Asian nations on the global pecking order.

If nothing changes in the March Ranking, and it almost won-t in the case of the top four, then Australia and Japan will be in separate groups, where they will likely be joined by one of either Korea Republic or Iran respectively. The remaining six teams will then be drawn in the same manner.

There is one match remaining in Round 3 - Australia of course will face Saudi Arabia at Melbourne-s AAMI Park on February 29 - and if the current group standings remained unchanged, then the ten teams for the draw in order of ranking would be:

Pot 1: Japan Australia

Pot 2: Korea Republic Iran

Pot 3: Uzbekistan Iraq

Pot 4: Jordan Saudi Arabia

Pot 5: Qatar Lebanon

However, before all that is determined there is the small matter of 90 more minutes of football on the final day of February.

Six nations - Japan, Australia, Iran, Uzbekistan, Iraq and Jordan - have already booked progression to the next stage. However a further eight nations are contesting four remaining positions across three groups.

In Group A, Jordan and Iraq have sealed a top-two finish leaving China, the world-s most populace nation, once again finishing well off the pace.

Group B is arguably the most intriguing with Korea Republic currently on top, but needing a draw at home against Kuwait to avoid an unthinkable early elimination for the eight-time FIFA World Cup finalists. Only an unlikely series of results will deny surprise-packets Lebanon from claiming one of the two available berths.

Japan and Uzbekistan are comfortably clear atop Group C, leaving Korea DPR as the first South Africa 2010 participant to be eliminated globally.

Australia-s Group D has the Socceroos assured of top spot, but a three-way battle for second spot is evenly poised. Expectations are, as always, high for Frank Rijkaard-s Saudi Arabia but destiny remains in their own hands. A win in Melbourne would guarantee progression but any other result would mean they are prone to being leapfrogged by either Oman or Thailand, who sit one and two points adrift respectively.

Finally to Group E where Iran are through and only a crushing defeat for Qatar in Tehran, combined with a big victory for Bahrain against Indonesia, can deny the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts.

Qualification will of course be determined on the football field on the last day of this month, but exactly which teams win through, combined with what happens in the new FIFA Rankings could also play a pivotal role in determining Asia-s Brazil 2014 storyline.

For instance should Thailand usurp the Saudis from Group D-s second spot, then Qatar would likely slide up into position 8 meaning Thailand and Lebanon would fill the bottom two spots for the purposes of the forthcoming draw which is scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur on March 9.

The only certainty is that Australia and Japan will be kept apart in Round 4, how the rest will play out is one for the fans to debate.

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