by Supratim Barman 17 November 2019
The qualification process, which started in 2019, is for both the Asia Cup and the World Cup. 24 teams go to the Asia Cup and either 5 or 4 to the World Cup. This does not include Qatar who, as the hosts are already qualified.
In Round 1, there are 46 teams in Asia, and of these the first 34 best placed Asian teams are given a bye into Round 2; with the remaining 12 paired off into 6 pairs: each playing a home-and-away tie with their opponent. The aggregate score from each pair than is the determining factor as to which 6 proceed to Round 2.
In Round 2, the 40 teams, (34 plus the 6), are then placed into 8 groups of 5 teams each. The process of determining which team is placed in which group is based on rankings within Asia. The seeding for the 8 groups lists teams from high to low. The first 8 are the top seeds for each group, i.e., groups A to H. The teams ranked from 9 to 16 are put in a pile called Pot 2. 17 to 24 in Pot 3. 25 to 32 in Pot 4. Pot 5 has teams ranked 33 and 34 plus all the 6 teams from Round 1.
The top seeds are fairly simple to allocate. (They are the top 8 Asian teams each randomly assigned a group letter). The second ranked team for each group is then chosen from Pot 2 by random lottery whereby a group letter is called and a team from Pot 2 is assigned by random choice to that group. This continues for the 3rd placed seed from Pot 3 and so on and so forth until all the remaining 4 spots for each group have been filled.
Once all the teams in each of the 8 groups are duly placed, they then play a round-robin tournament where each team within a group plays every other team in a home-and-away schedule. This leads to each team having to play 8 games within Round 2.
The 8 group winners plus the 4 best 2nd placed teams automatically qualify for the 2023 Asia Cup in the People’s Republic of China. (A total of 12 teams from the final 24 that will eventually play in that tournament). These 12 play no further part in the qualification process.
Round 3, then consists of all the 5th placed teams from each group of Round 2 plus the 4 worst 4th placed teams. These 12 teams are paired into 6 groups, where each play a home-and-away leg and the aggregate score is used to rank the best 8. (The 6 winners of each pair plus the 2 best losers).
In Round 4, there are 24 teams, which are the 8 qualifiers from Round 3 and 16 from Round 2. Those 16 are all the 3rd placed teams from Round 2, (a total of 8), along with the 4 worst 2nd placed teams from Round 2 in addition to the 4 best ranked teams in 4th place from Round 2.
These 24 are then placed into 6 groups of 4 teams each. Every team within a group play each other twice in a home-and-away fixture. The top 2 teams from each group are the final 12 who will then join the 12 qualifiers from Round 2 and proceed to play in the 2023 Asia Cup in China. The seeding for Round 4 follow the same pattern as for Round 2; where the 24 are ranked in order as to their standing within Asia from amongst themselves. The top 6 are allocated a Group letter from A to F. 7 to 12 in Pot 2. 13 to 18 in Pot 3. 19 to 24 in Pot 4. The 2nd seed for each group is selected from Pot 2 by first calling a group letter and randomly assigning a team from Pot 2 to that letter. The same with Pot 3 for the 3rd seed of each group and Pot 4 for the 4th seeds. Thus ends the 2023 Asia Cup qualification process.
The qualification for the 2022 World Cup in the State of Qatar is from amongst those 12 teams that qualified from Round 2. They are placed in 2 groups of 6 teams each and play a round-robin home-and-away schedule of fixtures within each group. The allocation of teams to group is very simply ranking the 12, again in order from high to low based on their standing within Asia, and then assigning ranks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 to a group and 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 to the other group. The top 2 from each group, (a total of 4), automatically qualify for the 2022 World Cup and the 2 3rd placed teams play each other in a home-and-away draw. The winner then has to play in the Intercontinental Cup in a home-and-away process. If they win then they go to the World Cup as the possible 5th Asian team with Qatar as the 6th Asian team, being as they are the Asian host. If they do not, than there are just 4 teams from Asia, with Qatar as the host Asian nation being the 5th. There will be 32 teams competing in the 2022 World Cup.
So of the 46 Asian teams, almost 50% or half will go to China and just 10% will go to the World Cup. This is similar to the 10% or 5 out of 55 from the African continent. Yet 25% or 13 of 55 from Europe will qualify, 40/50% or between 4 to 5 from 10 from South America, 3 or 4 from 35 from North, Central America and the Caribbean or 10% again and possibly 1 from 11 from Oceania.
The final composition at the World Cup is then 13/32 from Europe or 40%, 5/32 or 15% from Africa, 4/5 from South America, 3/4 from North, Central and the Caribbean, 4/5 from Asia. Asia, with 46 nations is given the same number of slots as the 10 nations from South America. What are the chances of an Asian nation winning the World Cup? It is close to nil. Although at this World Cup there will be a minimum of 5 and possibly a maximum of 6 Asian nations thereby slightly increasing the odds in Asia’s favour.
It is interesting to note that India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are placed together in the same group, (Group E). Bangladesh, (ranked 41st in Asia), had to qualify from Round 1 and held India, (ranked 18th in Asia), to a remarkable draw in Kolkata and Afghanistan, (ranked 29th), also held the 18th ranked to a draw in Dushanbe. Afghanistan play their home matches in Tajikistan due to the crippling conditions in their homeland forced upon them by the imperialist nations.
The Asian qualification process is the most complicated and arduous amongst the 6 football federations.