The preliminary draw for the World Cup 2022 Asian qualifiers on Wednesday placed Vietnam in group G with UAE, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The group matches are being nicknamed a “mini AFF Cup” as it gathers the top four Southeast Asian teams.
Before the draw, UAE were in the first seeding pot as one of the eight top teams in Asia. Vietnam were placed in the second pot while Thailand in the third pot, Malaysia fourth and Indonesia fifth.
Despite being ranked higher than the other three Southeast Asian teams, it will not be easy for Vietnam to beat them.
Arch rival Thailand is considered a regional powerhouse despite Vietnam winning the AFF Cup last December and going to beat the hosts at the King’s Cup last month.
Malaysia is another tough opponent who will be keen on exacting revenge for the loss in the AFF Cup 2018 final. Indonesia is considered the weakest team in the group, but Vietnam has always had trouble beating them.
But if Vietnam plays well against the three Southeast Asian teams, they can dream of getting first spot in the group, as the only stronger team is UAE, against whom Vietnam has obtained good results under coach Park Hang-seo.
Vietnam will play their first game away on September 5 with Thailand then clash with Malaysia at home on October 10. Five days later, they will play in Indonesia. In November, Vietnam will play the last two games of 2019 at home against UAE and Thailand.
The eight group winners and the four best group runner-ups of the second round will advance to the third round and will also automatically qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup held in China.
If Vietnam can make it to the third round, they will be among the last 12 Asian teams that are divided to two groups to compete for four direct slots. In the fourth round, third-placed teams from two groups will clash in a two-legged playoff and the winner will advance to the inter-continental playoffs against the fourth placed team of the North and Central American region for the last ticket to the World Cup.