India meet Nepal as Russia qualifiers kick off in Asia

The world`s lowest ranked soccer team, Bhutan, will take on Sri Lanka next month, while sleeping giants India face Nepal in the first qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup.

India meet Nepal as Russia qualifiers kick off in Asia

Kuala Lumpur: The world`s lowest ranked soccer team, Bhutan, will take on Sri Lanka next month, while sleeping giants India face Nepal in the first qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup.

Tuesday`s first round draw by the Asian Football Confederation, who are yet to find out from FIFA how many places they have been granted in Russia, also pitted Yemen against Pakistan, while East Timor will face Mongolia.

The two-legged ties will be played on March 12 and 17, with Taiwan up against Brunei and Cambodia taking on Macau.

Bhutan, at 209 the worst ranked side in world football, haven`t played since losing 5-2 to Sri Lanka in a South Asian Football Federation Championship match in Kathmandu in Sept. 2013.

Brunei, ranked 198th and under the management of former Blackburn Rovers boss Steve Kean, are taking part in a World Cup qualifying campaign for the first time since they lost all six matches at the first hurdle for the 2002 tournament.

The duo`s inclusion also make it the first time that all 209 member associations of FIFA have registered to take part in World Cup qualifying, the world governing body said.

CONCACAF, the North, Central American and Caribbean Federation, normally kick-off qualifying for a World Cup but their first round matches will take place on March 23 giving Asia the perk of opening the lengthy procedure to find out which 31 teams will join Russia at the finals.

The AFC had four-and-a-half qualifying spots at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with Jordan losing out to Uruguay in an intercontinental playoff and missing out on joining Iran, Japan, South Korea and Australia in South America.

If, as expected, the AFC are again granted four-and-half-spots their will be at least four rounds to determine which of the 46 members will play in Russia.

The six winners from the first round fixtures involving the AFC`s lowest ranked members will join the region`s 34 other teams in the second round, where they will be drawn in to eight groups of five.

The group winners and four runner-ups will advance to the 12-team third round and also book spots at the 2019 Asian Cup finals in a new qualifying format being used by the AFC.

The 12 World Cup hopefuls will then be drawn into two groups of six, with the top two likely to qualify for Russia and the two third place sides probably playing off with the winner advancing to the intercontinental tie. 

The 24 teams who don`t reach the third round stage will take part in another tournament to fill the remaining spots at the newly expanded 24-team Asian Cup. 

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