Hong Kong has been drawn in group C with Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Cambodia for the second round of Asian World Cup 2022 qualifiers. “The matches will be very, very tough and Cambodia also won’t be easy.” said Mixu Paatelainen, Hong Kong’s new head coach
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) qualifying for the Fifa World Cup has changed dramatically over the years. Since the first qualification campaign in 1934, when only one Asian team, Palestine, entered the qualification phase, the format and number of qualifiers from Asia has fluctuated.
Back in 1934, after Turkey withdrew from the three-team group, Palestine competed against Egypt in a one-off two-leg tie for direct qualification to the tournament in Italy. They were thrashed 11-2.
Hong Kong first entered World Cup qualifiers as an independent national team in 1974 when one place at the tournament was on offer to the 18 teams from Asia and Oceania who came through an initial round of classification matches in two “zones” (India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines withdrew before the matches were played). They then competed in a group stage to progress to a semi-final before a final match to decide the region's only qualifier.
This year, in addition to Qatar, who will qualify automatically as hosts, 46 AFC teams will compete for four direct qualification spots, and one extra place in a two-leg inter-confederation play-off match.
The 12 lowest-ranked teams have already fought out a two-leg first round knockout tie to determine the final 40 teams for this, the second round group stage. The eight group winners and the four best runners-up will advance to the third round of qualifying.
In the third round, the 12 teams will be divided into two groups of six to play home and away round-robin matches. The top two teams in each group will qualify for the World Cup, and the third-placed teams will advance to the fourth round.
In the fourth round, the two third-placed teams from the third round will play home and away over two legs. The winner will advance to the inter-confederation play-offs, where they will play a two-leg match against a team from either the CONCACAF, CONMEBOL or OFC confederation with World Cup qualification on the line.
Group C matches schedule (venue, local time)
Twenty three players have been named in the squad for the first two games of this stage of the qualifiers
Analyzing the previous performances of teams in group C, Bahrain, Iraq and Iran suggests a difficult assignment for Hong Kong, especially away from home. They haven’t made it to the third round of qualifying since 1974
Each team’s Fifa ranking is based on the results of Fifa-sanctioned matches throughout the previous four-year period. Each team tallies points during that period based on variables such as match results (it doesn’t consider goal differential in said matches), the importance of the match (friendlies don’t yield as many points as World Cup games), the strength of the opponent (a team earns a lot more points for beating Germany than they do for beating Haiti) and the perceived strength of the confederation (beating a Uefa team far outstrips beating an OFC side). Points are also more heavily weighted towards more recent results.
History shows that Hong Kong should be beating the likes of Cambodia, but are likely to struggle against Asia’s No 1 team Iran and the rapidly improving Bahrain
In the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, Hong Kong twice drew 0-0 with China in two highly charged matches but failed to reach the next round. But they easily beat Asian minnows Bhutan and Maldives.
Hong Kong finished third in their second round qualifying group four years ago, three points behind China in second and a massive seven points behind group winners Qatar.
(Results: Hong Kong versus teams)
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