The 18 teams advancing to the final round of Asian qualifiers for the 2026 FIFA World Cup

Led by Son Heung-Min's competition-high seven goals, South Korea are among the 18 teams through to the third and final round of Asian qualifiers for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images

After an intriguing seven-month period, the second round of Asian qualifiers for the 2026 FIFA World Cup came to a close on Tuesday.

With the World Cup expanding to 48 teams, Asia will now have at least eight representatives at the tournament in two years' time.

The increase in competing nations has also seen a change in the Asian qualifiers, meaning that -- for the first time -- 18 teams will do battle in the third and final round.

So, which sides are still in the running to qualify for the World Cup?


As the dominant force in the continent right now after winning the past two editions of the AFC Asian Cup, Qatar were always expected to go deep into the qualifiers and were relatively untroubled -- picking up five wins and a draw from their six matches to top Group A.

Star striker Almoez Ali did not disappoint as he finished the stage as the joint-top scorer with seven goals, a feat made even more impressive considering he was absent from the Qataris' final two games.


Barred from qualification for the 2018 World Cup due to a FIFA suspension and then taking some time to find their feet four years ago, Kuwait are now well and truly back on the international stage as they finished second in Group A.

They did however leave it late, having started Tuesday bottom of the pile before a crucial 1-0 win over Afghanistan saw them climb above their opponents and India into the qualification berths.


With a perfect record of six wins and a impressive tally of 24 goals scored and none conceded in Group B, Japan were the best performing team in the second round of Asian qualifiers.

They had contributors all throughout the squad and even managed to do some experimenting once progress was secured, with coach Hajime Moriyasu testing out an adventurous 3-2-4-1 formation in Tuesday's 5-0 rout of Syria.


Impressively, North Korea are marching on to the next round despite forfeiting a home tie against the Japanese, which resulted in a 3-0 walkover.

An important 1-0 win over the Syrians last Thursday -- courtesy of an injury-time winner -- paved the way for them to climb into second spot in on the final day as they beat Myanmar convincingly while getting a helping hand from Japan in the other Group B tie.


South Korea missed out on a perfect record in Group C but they still looked formidable, especially earlier in the campaign when they claimed a 3-0 away win over China and then last Thursday as they thrashed Singapore 7-0.

Unsurprisingly, Son Heung-Min led the way with seven goals and was ably supported by Lee Kang-In with four, although it will be interesting to see if interim coach Kim Do-Hoon stays on after taking charge of the past two games or if a permanent successor will be named following the post-Asian Cup dismissal of Jürgen Klinsmann.


China certainly made it difficult for themselves with their only two wins in Group C coming against bottom side Singapore, as they lost twice against South Korea and also failed to beat Thailand.

In the end, they scraped through on a superior head-to-head record against the Thais, after both sides finished with identical records of points, goal difference and goals scored.


A frequent feature of the latter stages of the Asian qualifiers, Oman will once again be there but it was far from the smoothest of journeys.

Oman finished top of Group D but there was only a three-point margin between them and third-placed Malaysia, highlighting how keenly contested proceedings were.


With Group D going down to the wire, it was Krygyz Republic who claimed the second qualifying spot after a 1-1 draw with Oman on Tuesday ensured they would finish a point ahead of Malaysia.

In truth, Kyrgyz Republic were always in control of proceedings as they boasted a far superior goal difference to the Malaysians, with a 1-0 win over Oman in their second qualifier proving a crucial result.


Group E was settled by March when both Iran and Uzbekistan were guaranteed a top-two finish.

Present at the past three World Cups, Team Melli will be among the leading contenders once again but will perhaps be slightly concerned that they were held to draws in both their meetings with the Uzbeks.


Having never qualified for the World Cup despite being one of Asian football's most consistent outfits, Uzbekistan must surely be one of the strongest prospects to join the expanded contingent of representatives from the continent in 2026.

The White Wolves did resemble a team looking to make amends after shockingly being eliminated in the second round of Asian qualifiers last time out, and can take heart from two creditable draws with the mighty Iran.


Looking to clear favourites once Group F was drawn, Iraq lived up to expectations as one of only three teams to finish with a perfect 18-point haul.

After their sole World Cup appearance in 1986, the Iraqis have not exactly come close to qualifying since then but look to be in a strong position this time around.


For the first time, Indonesia are through to the third round of the Asian qualifiers although they have previously featured at the World Cup -- back in 1938 when they were still the Dutch East Indies.

It was always going to be a three-way Southeast Asian battle for second spot in Group F and back-to-back wins over Vietnam back in March proved pivotal in the Indonesians finishing ahead of their regional rivals -- which also included Philippines.


After a remarkable run to the Asian Cup final earlier this year, Jordan have shown that was no fluke after advancing to the next round of Asian qualifiers as Group G winners.

The achievement came at the expense of continental heavyweights Saudi Arabia, no less - courtesy of an impressive come-from-behind 2-1 win in Tuesday's final set of fixtures.


Saudi Arabia are still on course to reach a third consecutive World Cup, but they might just be left to rue the loss to Jordan that saw them finish as runners-up in Group G.

Their seeding for the third round -- based on their FIFA world ranking -- could be affected by the time the draw comes along on June 27, and only time will tell if the Green Falcons' quest will come undone due to earlier proceedings.


Claiming 16 points from a possible 18 in Group H, the second round of the Asian qualifiers were par for the course for United Arab Emirates.

The Emiratis, who did feature at the 1990 World Cup, are part of a number of teams who have just come up short in qualifying for recent editions and are looming as likely beneficiares of the tournament's expansion.


With Group H also consisting of underdogs Yemen and Nepal, it always looked like it would take a failure of epic proportions for Bahrain to miss out on a top-two spot along with UAE.

There were of a couple of minor hiccups, including a goalless stalemate at home to Yemen last Thursday, although that result was enough to seal Bahrain's progress with a game to spare.


Like Japan, Australia can look back on their second-round efforts with pride -- racking up 22 goals and conceding none from six victories.

Particularly impressive about the Socceroos' efforts was the fact that they were coming up against decent opposition in the form of Lebanon and Palestine, who both featured at the Asian Cup earlier this year.


Amid the ongoing fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, Palestine have somehow overcome the odds to reach the final round of the Asian qualifiers -- despite being unable to host any home games.

It is an even more remarkable achievement considering Palestine had already advanced before Tuesday's final fixtures, and that it came by finishing above Lebanon -- who have reached the next stage in two of the past three editions.