The FIFA World Cup Asia qualifiers, which will determine the teams that will compete in Asia ahead of the 2026 World Cup in North America, kick off on July 16.
The second round of qualifiers will feature the region’s powerhouses – South Korea, Japan, Iran, and Australia – as well as China, Thailand, and Vietnam, which will be looking to qualify for the tournament for the first time since the tournament was expanded from 32 countries to 48 regions.
Naturally, the Korean national team is the most important, but there are plenty of other intriguing matchups.
On June 16, when South Korea takes on Singapore, one game to watch is China-Thailand.
China and Thailand are both looking to qualify for the World Cup this year. Both teams are favored to qualify from the third round, especially after their best-ever performances in 2002, when they advanced to the group stage and final round, respectively.
China will be led by key player Wu Lei and a group of naturalized mercenaries.
Wu Lei led Shanghai Haigang to the title this season with 18 goals and 11 assists. Although he lost the top scorer award to Zhejiang FC’s Leonardo by just one goal, Wu Lei is still capable of scoring goals.
However, in the midfield, Wu Xi has yet to emerge as a reliable distributor of the ball following Zheng Zheng’s retirement, and at 34 years old, Wu Xi is also showing signs of declining form in the midfield. In the two games without Wu Shi, the Chinese national team lost 0-1 to Syria and 1-2 to Uzbekistan.
Thailand, one of the top teams in East Asia, will face China without key player Songkrasin. Songkrasin is an integral part of the core, having been named the tournament MVP as well as co-leading scorer at the last Mitsubishi Cup. 캡틴토토 도메인
With Songkrasin at the helm, Thailand swept to the top of the Mitsubishi Cup after defeating Park Hang Seo’s Vietnam in East Asia, but the gap to world soccer was still stark.
In a friendly in October, they were thrashed 0-8 by Georgia, a European underdog. Songkrasin did not play, and the Thais were playing with a second-team squad that included some first-teamers.
To challenge on the world stage, they will have to get past China first.
On the 21st, Vietnam and Iraq will go head-to-head.
Vietnam, who are competing in their first World Cup since the Park Hang Seo era under French coach Philippe Trousseau, have struggled in recent campaigns, with goalless defeats to China, Uzbekistan, and South Korea.
Iraq, on the other hand, has been on a roll since its 0-1 loss to South American powerhouse Colombia in June, drawing both Qatar and Jordan in two friendlies in October.
The attacking duo of Aymen Hussein and Ibrahim Bayesh are Iraq’s leading scorers, and they will look to deliver an unexpected blow to a Vietnam side that has struggled defensively.