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South Korea's Son Heung-min warms up during an open training session ahead of the second round of the Asian qualifier group C match for 2026 World Cup between South Korea and China, in Goyang, South Korea, Saturday, June 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
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India, China's World Cup qualifying hopes are on the line in Asia

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By JOHN DUERDEN

The World Cup aspirations of India and China are on the line Tuesday when a defeat could mean elimination from Asian qualifying.

A big chunk of the world’s population will be following the results with interest.

If China loses to South Korea in Seoul in the last game of the second round of qualification, then it could lose second place in Group C to Thailand, which hosts Singapore in Bangkok.

Only the top two teams in each of the nine groups progress to the third stage of Asian qualification for the 2026 World Cup.

Just five of the 18 spots are still up for grabs with continental football heavyweights such as Japan, Australia, Iran and Saudi Arabia already guaranteed of progressing.

China, which has only ever qualified for one men's World Cup — when the tournament was co-hosted by Japan and South Korea in 2002 — missed a chance to advance last week when it drew 1-1 with Thailand in Shenyang.

“There is still a lot of football to be played and we will go to South Korea and give it all we have,” China coach Branko Ivankovic said. “We will go all out in the next match and try to qualify for the next round."

It will be difficult for Ivankovic's team. China has won just twice in 37 games against South Korea. At No. 23, the South Koreans are 65 places higher than China on the FIFA world rankings.

And even though South Korea sealed its place in the next stage with a 7-0 rout of Singapore last week, there's unlikely to be any lack of intensity in the rivalry against China.

“Just as we gave our fans joy with the win over Singapore, we would all like to finish this round well on our home pitch,” South Korea's interim head coach Kim Do-hoon said. “Everyone on the team feels the same.”

India could progress with a win over 2022 World Cup host Qatar but anything less will give Afghanistan an opportunity. The teams are level on points in second spot in Group A, but Afghanistan has an inferior goal difference.

India was disappointed with last week's 0-0 against Kuwait at Kolkata and now faces a tough trip to the home of the Asian champion, though Qatar has already secured first place in the group.

“We need to believe in our team,” India coach Igor Stimac said. “We need to believe in our abilities, and in what’s possible to do. We have a young team. So we need to believe in what we can do.”

Indonesia could also progress to the third stage of qualifying for the first time with a win against Philippines.

“There will be no retreat against the Philippines. We have to work even harder,” coach Shin Tae-yong said. If Indonesia slips up, then Vietnam could take advantage with a win against the already advanced Iraq.

North Korea and Syria are vying for second spot in Group B.

Syria is one point ahead of North Korea in the standings but faces a tough away trip to Japan, which has won all five games so far without conceding a goal. North Korea takes on last-place Myanmar and is expected to win.

Kyrgyzstan needs just a point against Group D leader Oman to progress ahead of Malaysia in third.

Already assured of a spot in the next round despite disruptions amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza, the Palestinian team arrived in Australia without its football federation president, Jibril Rajoub, for Tuesday's Group I game in Perth.

Local media reported on the weekend that Rajoub was denied an entry visa despite having his application endorsed by Australian football organizers.

Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Monday said he wasn't involved in the visa situation, with decisions made by border and immigration officials.

© Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.


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A big chunk of the world’s population will be following the results with interest.

That blanket statement assumes that everyone in China and India will be interested in knowing if the teams qualify, which is a bit of a stretch.

Football, and I am referring to passionately watching and following the game as opposed to playing on and off in school, is only popular in a few parts of India, namely Goa, Kerala, Bengal and the northeast.

It fares better in China I suppose.

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