The upcoming Asian qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup feature Japan, South Korea, and Australia. These teams, having reached the round of 16 in the last World Cup, are keen to start their journey toward the finals in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
Japan are eyeing an eighth consecutive World Cup appearance after a series of remarkable performances following their brilliance in the World Cup in Qatar late last year, when they defeated Germany and Spain 2-1 in the group stage.
The “Samurai” continued their winning streak in the last six matches, netting 24 goals and conceding only 5. During their European tour last September, they achieved two outstanding results, defeating Germany 4-1 at home and securing a 4-2 victory over Turkey. These results led to the dismissal of the coaches of the losing teams.
Coach Hajime Moriyasu’s squad will kick off their campaign against Myanmar in Osaka on Thursday in the second group competition, which also includes North Korea and Syria.
Moriyasu warned his players not to underestimate the group’s teams, emphasizing, “No team can be underestimated. We must always aspire to provide the best.”
Korea, Another Serious Candidate
As for South Korea, who reached the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup when they co-hosted it with Japan, they suffered at the beginning of the era of their new coach, German Jurgen Klinsmann, who was appointed last February, succeeding the Portuguese Paulo Bento. Despite failing to win his first five matches, his team returned to winning form in the previous three matches, scoring 11 goals without conceding any.
South Korea is competing in the qualifiers, relying on the big names playing in the most prominent European clubs, led by Tottenham’s captain Heung-Min Son, Bayern Munich’s defender Min-Jae Kim, and Paris Saint-Germain’s attacking midfielder Kang-In Lee.
South Korea starts their journey by hosting Singapore on Thursday before facing China five days later. The group also includes the Thai national team
Klinsmann said he traveled to Singapore to scout the first competitor. He warned his players about needing a “serious” approach, emphasizing a professional mentality to compete in the World Cup qualifiers.
The Strong Australian Team
As for Australia, they begin their journey with an easy match against Bangladesh in Melbourne in the tenth group competition, which also includes Lebanon and Palestine.
Coach Graham Arnold stressed the end of “experiments,” focusing on setting the right tactics and ensuring players perform well, in order to secure victories at any cost.
The Australian national team has qualified six times for the World Cup finals, including the last five editions in a row. The two teams had met in two matches before in continental qualifiers, during which Australia won in the second-round qualifiers for the 2018 edition.
In the same group, the Lebanese national team will begin their qualifying campaign against Palestine at Khalid bin Mohammed Stadium in Sharjah, UAE, because their stadiums do not comply with the standards of the Continental Confederation. At the same time, Palestine will play their first home match against Australia next Tuesday, in Kuwait, due to the war between Israel and the Hamas movement.
Reaching the decisive qualifying round in the 2014 and 2022 qualifiers is the furthest point the Lebanese team has ever achieved, while the Palestine team has reached the second round on four previous occasions.
The Lebanese national team is participating in the qualifiers for the ninth time, while this is the seventh participation for Palestine. This game will be the sixth between the two teams, knowing they tied in their last match in August 2019 in the West Asian Football Federation Championship.
As for the other most prominent teams nominated to participate in the next football tournament, there is Saudi Arabia, who will host Pakistan in the first round.
Saudi Arabia achieved a massive surprise in the Qatar World Cup with a resounding victory over Argentina 2-1 in the group stage. Still, it was unable to build on it and did not succeed in qualifying for the next round.
The Saudi national team is led by expert Italian coach Roberto Mancini, who led his country in their win of the European Cup in the summer of 2021.
Meanwhile, Iran hosts Hong Kong, and Qatar hosts Afghanistan.
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