How Can Nepal Qualify for Third Round of Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers ?
Many questions are being raised regarding Nepal’s possibility of making it to the third round of AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers. The confusion is between whether Nepal will directly qualify for the Third Round or will have to play a play-off.
Let’s go through the qualification procedures.
What are the qualifications criteria ?
A total of 40 teams were divided into 8 groups, each comprising of 5 teams. Each team of their respective groups play each other, home and away. Eight winners from the 8 groups along with four best runner-ups among those eight groups will directly qualify for the AFC Asia Cup 2023. Those 12 teams will also get qualification for the third round of the FIFA World Cup 2022.
Similarly, the remaining four runner-ups, eight teams from eight group finishing third in their respective groups and 4 best fourth placed finisher among the eight groups will play the third round of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers. The remaining 12 teams (4th placed and eight 5th placed teams) will play the play-off matches.
In play-off, those 12 teams will face any one opponent through a draw and the winner of the draw will qualify for the 3rd round of the qualifiers. The remaining six losing team will once again play any one opponent and the three winner will also advance to the third round of the qualifiers.
Nepal’s Position in Group B
Nepal currently sits comfortably at 4th position with 6 points which came through wins against Chinese Taipei. Nepal has already played 6 matches and lost four out of them.
Nepal still has Australia and Jordan to play.
What is Nepal’s Status ?
With current standings, Nepal clearly looked one of the best fourth placed finisher. But, unfortunately, North Korea withdrew its participation from the qualifiers citing the Covid-19 fear and obliged AFC to reshuffle the qualification criteria.
With group H reduced to only four teams after North Korea’s withdrawal, the matches between 2nd placed and fifth placed, and match between 4th placed and 5th placed will not be counted while determining the best second and fourth placed finishers.
In accordance with this decision, the results of all of the Round 2 matches already played by Korea DPR are declared null and void. Consequently, after the conclusion of all groups’ Round 2 matches, the results of the matches between the second-placed teams and the fifth-placed teams in groups A to G will not be counted in order to have a balanced final comparison between all group runners-up and therefore, alleviating any possible imbalance between the seven qualifying groups caused by the sudden reduction of Group H to only four teams.FIFA wrote in an official statement.
According to the statements by FIFA and AFC, Nepal’s matches against Chinese Taipei won’t be considered while determining the best fourth placed finishers, as Chinese Taipei are all but sure of fifth place finish. Therefore, in the table of all the fourth placed finisher, Nepal sits at the bottom with 0 points as both wins against Chinese Taipei is regarded as void.
Therefore, the table looks like this (as of 5th June, 2021)
In order to be the best four fourth finisher among the eight groups, Nepal must win at least a match, either against Jordan or against Australia. After even winning at least a match, Nepal will have to rely on the result of other group matches.
Looking at their respective tables, Maldives and Sri Lanka can’t are all but out from the contention. Nepal can’t beat Malaysia and Singapore with 3 points as they have superior goal differences than that of Nepal. India has two matches left to play against Bangladesh and Afghanistan. In that group, all three; India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan has chance to finish fourth. So, their final result will decide the faith of Nepal. India must lose both games, so that there stand a chance for Nepal to get direct third round entry.
Myanmar has matches against Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Myanmar must lose both matches and the other matches in the group must fall in favor of Nepal to gain direct 3rd round qualification.
What if Nepal doesn’t get direct Third Round Entry ?
If Nepal falls short of making it to third round of the qualifiers, Nepal will have to play play off matches. Most likely it would be a two legged play off matches. If Nepal win that play off match, Nepal will get the Third Round entry. Even if Nepal loses the play off match, there stand yet another chance. Nepal will have to play yet another play off match and the winner will again get 3rd round entry.
In my opinion, it is all but sure that Nepal will play the play off. Nepal has two matches left and those are against two of the best teams in Asia. Even if Nepal managed to produce at least a win among those two matches, Nepal will have to wait for the result of other teams, which is mostly unlikely. However, the chance still stands.
I think, playing play off won’t be bad for Nepal. In the two play off options, I am confident that Nepal will surely win one of them. Nepal will most probably play anyone of these: Maldives, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Guam, Cambodia, Palestine. These teams are based on assumptions. However, in the play off match, it will be the clashes of weaker teams of every groups. Therefore, I think Nepal can produce a win in play off and ultimately make it into the third round of AFC Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers.