Road to the World Cup: What do ASEAN hopefuls have to do to qualify?

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For any of Asia's hopefuls looking to qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, they now know what the fate that lies ahead for them.

On Thursday, the draw for the first two rounds of the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup -- which run in tandem with the AFC Asian Cup -- was made as 48 of the continent's teams were handed their paths to football's biggest stage.

The first round of qualifiers will see the 20 lowest-ranked sides face off in a home-and-away knockout tie, with the ten winners then progressing.

The second round, now consisting of 36 teams, see nine groups do battle -- with the top two in each both advancing on in their World Cup quest, as well as qualifying automatically for the 2027 Asian Cup.

The World Cup's expansion in 2026 means Asia will now have a guaranteed eight spots at the 48-team competition, meaning some of those outside the continent's established order could be in with a chance.

Southeast Asia continues to wait its first representatives since Indonesia took part in the 1938 edition as the Dutch East Indies, although both Thailand and Vietnam have reached the final round of qualifiers in the past two campaigns respectively.

Here, we take a look at what the region has ahead of them in their quest to book their ticket to United States, Mexico and Canada.

(All world rankings as of July 20, 2023)

BRUNEI DARUSSALAM (world ranking 190th)

Having only played in 18 World Cup qualifiers ever, including just two each in the first round of the past two editions before an early elimination, Brunei Darussalam are expected to find the going tough once again.

They will enter their first-round tie against Indonesia as severe underdogs and will have to pull off an almighty upset if they are to join Iraq, Vietnam and Philippines in Group F.

CAMBODIA (world ranking 176th)

While the draw could have been far less kind to Cambodia, it will still take something special if they are to go further than seeing off Pakistan in the first round, with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tajikistan lying in wait.

Especially after suffering some humiliating defeats in previous years - including 14-0 and 10-0 thrashings at the hands of Iran -- the Cambodians will be hoping to just escape with their pride intact this time, along with maybe a creditable point or two along the way.

INDONESIA (world ranking 150th)

As one of four Southeast Asian teams that did well enough last time out to qualify for next year's Asian Cup, Indonesia will be hoping for a repeat and it does look like the draw has handed them a chance -- with Iraq and regional rivals Vietnam and Philippines awaiting in Group F should they see off Brunei in the first round as expected.

The main issue lies in the fact that the familiarity between most of Southeast Asia's teams means the form book often goes out the window and, as much as a chance Indonesia have of upsetting Vietnam, there also is of them falling to an unexpected loss to Philippines.

LAOS (world ranking 176th)

One of seven ASEAN teams that will begin their campaign in the first round, the opening test for Laos will see them come up against Nepal -- ranked just one place above them at the moment.

Whoever emerges victorious from that tie will then have to battle with much stronger opposition in the form of United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as the victors of another first-round tie between Yemen and Sri Lanka.

MALAYSIA (world ranking 136th)

Malaysia did extremely well to qualify for the Asian Cup -- to be held in Qatar at the start of the next year -- last time out and that should be their target once again, even though the World Cup is obviously the dream.

At the very least, they do have a chance of advancing to the third round with Oman the clear favourites in Group D but Kyrgyz Republic beatable, while either Chinese Taipei or Timor-Leste will complete the group.

MYANMAR (world ranking 160th)

Myanmar, who memorably competed at the U-17 World Cup in 2015, are first up against Macau -- who currently six 22 places behind them in the world rankings.

Should Myanmar advance into the second round, they face an uphill task to go further up in Group B against powerhouses Japan and Syria, as well as North Korea.

PHILIPPINES (world ranking 135th)

With their female counterparts making a name for themselves at the ongoing FIFA Women's World Cup -- having notched a historic win over New Zealand on Tuesday -- the men now get the chance again the emulate the feat of gracing the biggest stage football has to offer.

Up against Iraq, Vietnam and either Indonesia or Brunei, the Azkals have plenty of work ahead of them but they have proven in the past to be capable of pulling off an upset against the continent's traditional heavyweights.

SINGAPORE (world ranking 158th)

Undeniably in the doldrums at present, following a humbling Southeast Asian Games campaign that saw them thrashed 7-1 by bitter rivals Malaysia which led to the decision not to send a team to the upcoming Asian Games, Singapore are in desperate need of some positivity.

They should be confident in their prospects of seeing off Guam in the first round, but it is difficult to see them finishing above any two from South Korea, China and Thailand in Group B of the second round.

THAILAND (world ranking 113th)

Having reached the third and final round of Asian qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup, Thailand will be looking to bounce back after their status as Southeast Asian's leading lights was taken over by Vietnam last time out.

The Thais enter the second round directly and, while South Korea are favourites to top Group B, will be feeling they have a chance of pipping China to a top-two finish.

TIMOR-LESTE (world ranking 192nd)

Should they manage to see off Chinese Taipei in the first round, Timor-Leste will then join Malaysia in Group D alongside Oman and Kyrgyz Republic.

In 16 attempts, the Timorese have only ever won two World Cup qualifiers -- both against Mongolia in 2018 -- and even then, the victories were eventually reversed after they were penalised for fielding ineligible players.

VIETNAM (world ranking 95th)

As the best-performing Southeast Asian team in the previous edition, Vietnam once again stand an excellent chance of going deep into the qualifiers -- although a new era has dawned following the arrival of Philippe Troussier to replace former coach Park Hang-seo.

Fast becoming a custom albeit through sheer coincidence, Vietnam - the only ASEAN outfit inside the world's top 100 -- will come up alongside some familiar foes from the region as they have done in recent times, with Philippines and either Indonesia and Brunei also part of a Group F that has Iraq as favourites to finish top.