After more than a year of hiatus due to the ongoing pandemic, Southeast Asian national teams are back to the field for Asian Qualifiers, with all games to be played at the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The Asian Qualifiers serve as joint qualification rounds for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup China 2023. In particular, Group G consists of the host country UAE, with Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia completing the group contenders. The UAE is the highest-ranked team in the Group.
UAE was selected by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in March as one of the centralised venues to host the remaining second round. All matches for Group G will be played in Dubai’s two grounds, the Al-Maktoum Stadium and the Zabeel Stadium.
The Al-Maktoum Stadium, UAE’s most modern football arena, also served as a venue for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Alongside the UAE, Vietnam and Thailand have had experience playing on this ground, where Thailand won 1-0 over Bahrain in the group stage. For Vietnam, the ground has witnessed their victory in a penalty shootout against Jordan in the Round of 16 and a 1-0 defeat to Japan in the quarter-final of the competition.
With all teams already played five matches except for UAE who have played four, the Group G remains wide open and would be interesting to see which teams would automatically qualify for the Asian Cup, and also advance to the next round for the World Cup on the final day of the round.
Topping the group standings are Vietnam, unbeaten in their first five games with the highlight of their Qualifiers campaign this far a famous 1-0 home victory against the UAE thanks to a Nguyen Tien Linh strike.
Two points adrift of the summit of the group are Malaysia, hopeful of reaching the AFC Asian Cup for the first time since co-hosting the 2007 edition. The Harimau Malaya thus far have won three matches and lost two, both at home and away, to the UAE and Vietnam, respectively.
Occupying third place is Thailand, going through a mixed campaign with eight points. Akira Nishino’s side has recorded two wins, two draws and one defeat – against its southern neighbour Malaysia – and recorded a convincing 2-1 victory over the UAE at home. Their games against Vietnam all ended with a draw.
Sitting at the fourth place is host nation, the UAE. By having all matches played at their familiar ground, the Whites are hopeful to use that advantage to win all their remaining matches. Plus, with having a game in hand, they could climb up should they win against Malaysia. For the record, the UAE had previously played in the FIFA World Cup by reaching the 1990 finals in Italy.
Already down and out of the World Cup race is Indonesia who played five consecutive defeats thus far. Ranked 173rd in the most recent FIFA rankings, the first Asian country to appear in the FIFA World Cup has not enjoyed the best of times recently and is in need of a miracle to continue their journey for the Asian Cup.
THE BRUNEIAN | KUALA LUMPUR