Your response to the headline may well be “huh”, to which I will say, “let me explain”.
As previously explained on this website, the World Cup technically includes both the part you watched last summer and the qualifying tournament that precedes it (hence why the former is sometimes known as the “World Cup Final”).
Starting tomorrow, 12 teams from the Asian Football Confederation will play the first of two games that, on aggregate, determines who will advance to the next round of the AFC’s qualifiers. Suffice it to say, seeing as how these are the 12 lowest ranked teams from the AFC the odds of any of them appearing in Moscow three years from is extremely slim. (Indeed, the highest ranked team, India, is ranked 171st in the world according to FIFA’s rankings.) Nonetheless, it is technically the start of the tournament. The matches below will be played March 12th and 17th, with the first home team listed first:
- India vs. Nepal
- Yemen vs. Pakistan
- Timor-Leste vs. Mongolia
- Cambodia vs. Macau
- Chinese Taipei vs. Brunei
- Sri Lanka vs. Bhutan
Just for fun, I’ll do the usual advancement scenarios next week, as well as preview the beginning of CONCACAF’s qualifiers later this month. Also look out for a post explaining all of 2018 World Cup qualifying, though that may have to wait because FIFA hasn’t announced how many bids each confederation will get yet (which has the knock-on effect of UEFA not announcing what their format is going to be yet). Until then!