KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia are expected to face an uphill to qualify for the next stage of the 2018 FIFA Russia World Cup Asian Zone Qualifier after being drawn against middle east giants Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in Group A.
In the draw held yesterday, coach Dollah Salleh’s boys will face United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Timor Leste in Group A.
In the opening match on June 11, Malaysia will host Timor Leste before facing Palestine on June 16 before bracing for a tough outing against the UAE on Sept 3 and Saudia Arabia on Sept 8.
The AFC Asian Cup champion, Australia were drawn in the same group as Jordan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan and Bangladesh in Group B while China and Qatar are in Group C with Maldives, Bhutan and Hong Kong.
Iran, the top ranked Asian team in the FIFA ranking list will face Oman, India, Turkmenistan and Guam in Group D while Group H comprise Uzbekistan, Bahrain, the Philippines, Yemen and Asian Games runner-up North Korea.
Japan and South Korea will lead Group E, and Group G respectively while Vietnam and Thailand will fight it out with Iraq, Indonesia and Chinese Taipei in Group F.
According to the new AFC format, the winner of each group and four best teams will advance to the final round and AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 finals.
Earlier in his speech, AFC Secretary-General Datuk Alex Soosay said the new format was more inclusive and allowed teams from different balance and equality to compete against each other.
“That augers well for the development of football because as we know, playing in the World Cup atmosphere is always a dream for every one,” he said.
Alex also congratulated six qualifiers from the first qualifying round play-off namely India, Yemen, Cambodia, Timor Leste, Bhutan and Chinese Taipei.
“We commend, appreciate and congratulate them for making it to Round 2. Round 1 also produced some very exciting matches and surprising results. Timor Leste is one example with their rapid development and improvement and Bhutan with their impressive win against Sri Lanka, home and away,” he added.
Meanwhile, head of FIFA World Cup and Olympic Qualifiers Gordon Savic made a strong appeal to all participating teams to give their full support in the upcoming matches.
“To all the teams, please prepare and deliver in all the forthcoming matches under the umbrella of fairplay and sportsmanship,” he said.
Group A: UAE, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Timor Leste, MALAYSIA
GroupB: Australia, Jordan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, Bangladesh
Group C: China, Qatar, Maldives, Bhutan, Hong Kong
Group D: Iran, Oman, India, Turkmenistan, Guam
Group E: Japan, Syria, Afghanistan, Singapore, Cambodia
Group F: Iraq, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan
Group G: South Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Myanmar, Laos
Group H: Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Philippines, North Korea, Yemen