Japan were drawn to face North Korea and Syria in Asia’s preliminaries for the 2026 World Cup on Thursday, while South Korea will face China and Thailand when the second round of the continent’s qualifiers kick off in November.
The Japanese will also take on the winners of a playoff between Myanmar and Macau, to be held over two legs on Oct. 12 and 17, while Korea’s group is completed by either Singapore or Guam.
Australia, who reached the knockout rounds at the 2022 World Cup before losing to eventual champions Argentina, will feature in Group I alongside Palestine, Lebanon and either the Maldives or Bangladesh.
FIFA’s decision to increase the size of the World Cup to 48 nations means Asia has been granted eight guaranteed berths plus a possible ninth spot at the finals available through a series of intercontinental playoffs.
Teams finishing in the top two positions in the nine groups drawn in Kuala Lumpur will advance to the third preliminary round, where three groups of six teams will compete for the World Cup spots.
Reigning Asian Cup holders Qatar, who hosted the 2022 World Cup, will face India, Kuwait and either Afghanistan or Mongolia in Group A while in Group E six-time World Cup qualifiers Iran face Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Hong Kong or Bhutan.
Iraq have been drawn in Group F alongside Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia or Brunei with Saudi Arabia headlining Group G with Jordan, Tajikistan and Cambodia or Pakistan.
The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and either Yemen or Sri Lanka and Nepal or Laos compete in Group H.
Asian World Cup qualifying, First Round (to be played Oct. 12 and 17)
Afghanistan v Mongolia; Maldives v Bangladesh; Singapore v Guam; Yemen v Sri Lanka; Myanmar v Macau; Cambodia v Pakistan; Taiwan v Timor Leste; Indonesia v Brunei; Hong Kong v Bhutan; Nepal v Laos.
Second Round (matches to be played from November 2023 to June 2024)
Group A: Qatar, India, Kuwait, Afghanistan or Mongolia
Group B: Japan, Syria, North Korea, Myanmar or Macau
Group C: South Korea, China, Thailand, Singapore or Guam
Group D: Oman, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Taiwan or Timor Leste
Group E: Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Hong Kong or Bhutan
Group F: Iraq, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia or Brunei
Group G: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tajikistan, Cambodia or Pakistan
Group H: United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen or Sri Lanka, Nepal or Laos
Group I: Australia, Palestine, Lebanon, Maldives or Bangladesh