The draw for the preliminary round two of the joint-qualification will be held on July 17 but getting which teams will be the best for Malaysia?
The 12-2 success achieved over Timor Leste in Round One of the preliminary round sees Malaysia together with 39 other Asian teams casting a firm eye on Wednesday’s big draw at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur. In this stage of the qualifiers, the big boys of Asian football will join the fray with the 40 teams divided into five different pots according to their latest FIFA Rankings published in June 2019.
All the teams will be drawn into eight groups of five teams each with one team coming out from each pot. Given that Malaysia rose to 159, they became the last team to enter Pot 4. What that means at least on paper is that, there will only be three teams stronger than Tan Cheng Hoe’s team when the draw is completed instead of four, had Malaysia not climbed up the rankings table.
Finishing top place in the group means a spot in the 2023 Asian Cup as well as a place in the third round of the World Cup qualifiers. Second place in the group means a place in the third round of the World Cup qualifiers with the best four runners-up teams getting a spot in the Asian Cup.
But finishing anything lower than that will only mean an end to that team’s World Cup journey but the the road towards China 2023 still remains open. Third, fourth and fifth placed teams will be in the next stage of the Asian Cup qualifiers, be that the third round or the play-off round.
So essentially there will still be plenty of football for Malaysia to play even if they ultimately finish outside of the top two spots in the group. Rankings are an indication but not absolute, which means Malaysia are expected to finish fourth in any group that they are drawn in but if the draw is kind to Cheng Hoe, a second or even third place finish is possible.
All the teams in Pot 1 including Iraq and Uzbekistan from Pot 2 are undoubtedly in a class of quality higher than what Malaysia are at the moment. While Syria, Oman, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam and Jordan are also strong teams; Malaysia do not go into those matches fearing the worst and on a day where everything comes together, Malaysia could even get a point or three from them.
The idea for Cheng Hoe and his coaching staff would be maximise every single one of the five home matches to be played in the group and look to gain as many points as possible on the road. Realistically they should be targetting to finish third in the group but perhaps should be aiming slightly higher and hope to reach the Asian Cup directly from this stage of the qualification.
Best possible draw: China, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka
Worst possible draw: Iran, Uzbekistan, Palestine, Malaysia, Indonesia
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