Soccer-Iran Secures Berth in Battle for World Cup Final

FILE PHOTO: Iranians protest inside World Cup 2022 stadium before police confiscate flags. REUTERS./

By Michael Church

 – Eleven nations will fight for the five remaining berths in the next phase of Asia’s preliminaries for the 2026 World Cup on Tuesday, with China, India and Indonesia all yet to determine their fate.

Regular World Cup qualifiers Japan, South Korea, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Iran have already confirmed their progress, claiming spots among the 18 countries that will battle for the eight guaranteed berths at the finals in two years’ time.

Asian Cup holders Qatar as well as continental runners-up Jordan have also advanced to a third round that will determine six of the spots available at the 48-team tournament in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Soccer-Iran’s Mehdi Taremi Scores Hat Trick in Asia World Cup Qualifiers

China, looking to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since their debut in 2002, remain in a strong position to progress after Behram Abduweli’s late equaliser against Thailand on Thursday.

“For us the qualifying tournament isn’t over yet,” said coach Branko Ivankovic after the 1-1 draw in Shenyang. “We will go all out in the next match and try to qualify for the next round.”

The Chinese face South Korea knowing a point will see off the challenge of the Thais, who need to defeat Singapore and hope to overhaul China’s superior goal difference to claim second place in Group C.

India find themselves in a more precarious position ahead of their Group A meeting with Qatar as Igor Stimac leads his team into their first game since the retirement of captain Sunil Chhetri knowing they must win.

Third-placed Afghanistan are level on five points with the Indians and they travel to play Kuwait with both nations harbouring their own qualification dreams.

Indonesia host the Philippines looking for a win to see off Vietnam’s challenge for second spot in Group F behind already-qualified Iraq while Syria face Japan hoping for a positive result as they attempt to hold off North Korea in Group B.

Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, will confirm their progress to the third round ahead of Malaysia if they do not fall to a heavy defeat against Group D leaders Oman in Muscat.

The draw for the third round will take place in Kuala Lumpur on June 27, when the qualifiers will be placed into three groups of six.

The top two in each group will advance to the finals with the third and fourth place finishers moving onto a fourth round, where the winners of two further spots will be determined.

An intercontinental playoff also featuring teams from Africa, South America and Oceania could see a ninth Asian federation qualify for the tournament.

(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Toby Davis)

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