Asian Cup state of play: Every group scenario and what they mean for the Socceroos in final round
Australia’s quest to become champions of Asia has got off to a great start – at least, the results have.
While the Socceroos haven’t exactly sparkled on the field in victories over India and Syria, they have at least won and secured a path to the knockout stages, which is more than can be said of some of the other big favourites.
With the final round of group games set for this week, we can now plot a path to the final, and, really, that’s all that matters. Win when it counts and nobody will remember the slightly turgid opening fixtures.
Arnold has set up a team that is best when it can counterattack, and that should be perfect for the pointy end of the tournament – so let’s see who lies in wait for the Socceroos.
Hosts Qatar are already through, but the other automatic qualification spot is open to all three other teams, as well as the third place, which might end up being enough to advance.
Qatar face China on Monday night and will top the group regardless. Tajikistan and Lebanon are both on a point so far, but if either of those sides win, they’ll almost certainly go through, while a draw doesn’t help anyone.
China have drawn 0-0 in both games so far and are up against it, as they would have to score to beat the hosts, who are unlikely to take it easy in front of their own fans.
If China win they’re through, but a draw will likely not be enough as three points probably won’t cut it in the mini-league of third placed teams.
If China lose, the maths get complicated.
A goalless draw in the other game would see them level with Tajikistan on difference and goals scored (zero), as well as head to head (they drew), with eventually disciplinary points and potentially even the drawing of lots to separate the sides.
If it’s a score draw, things get even more complex, and if China lose by more than a single goal, the potential outcomes are endless.
Whatever happens, it’ll be entertaining – so if you’re up at 2am, you’re in for a treat.
Australia’s group is a little more straightforward. The Socceroos are through and will play Uzbekistan knowing that they only need a draw to top the group.
Syria can pretty much secure passage by beating India, as four points will probably be plenty to place high enough in the third place rankings, where the Indians would need to win and to turn around some horrendous goal difference to advance. They’re all but out.
What is potentially interesting is the match-ups for the Socceroos.
By finishing top, Australia would earn themselves the right to face a team that finished third – currently one of Palestine, Tajikstan or Indonesia, though that obviously could all change – but perhaps more importantly, it shifts them onto the other side of the draw.
As it stands, finishing second would see Australia face Thailand or Oman in the Round of 16, Qatar in the quarters then potentially Japan or South Korea in the semis.
The other side has Saudi Arabia and Iraq as the other group winners, with the Saudis in the quarters the big looming challenge.
It’s certainly the simpler path, on paper at least, so winning the group matters for Australia.
Iran and the UAE will face off for top spot, but might be conscious of the logjam that Australia are looking to avoid when deciding whether they want to win or not.
Iran are through after two wins, while the UAE would do well not to finish in the top two, as Palestine would have to overturn a five-goal differential on the them to finish second, and even if they finished third, it would take a miracle for their four points not to be enough to make the knockouts.
Where things get interesting is the path through the finals. If Iran chucked the game, they’d finish second and go into the top half of the draw with Australia, Iraq and the Saudis, which they might think is easier than Japan, South Korea and Qatar.
Their R16 match would be one of China, Tajikistan and Lebanon, so hardly a daunting task, and then the winner of Iraq and one of (as it stands) Syria/Bahrain/Oman before a potential semi with the Socceroos or Saudis.
The bottom line here is that this is certainly a good game for Iran to lose to advance in the tournament.
The UAE might know that too, which could make for some very entertaining scenes in Education City tomorrow overnight.
In the other game, Palestine just have to win and, preferably, win well. A Hong Kong win could see them go through as a third place side but it would require a few goals to go their way as well.
Having beaten Indonesia first up and then Japan, the Iraqis are through in first place. Vietnam are out completely and their game with Iraq is the deadest of dead rubbers.
Winning doesn’t help Japan at all, as they cannot surpass Iraq due to head-to-head, but a draw would see both the Samurai Blue and Indonesia go through.
Obviously, nobody would suggest that the teams could conspire to get the result that sends both through, but given that the two sides that currently occupy the non-progressing spots in the third place table (Tajikistan and Palestine) will have already played their final games, it’s certainly something that could happen by the time Japan vs Indonesia kicks off on Wednesday.
Good news for everyone is that the 48-team World Cup in 2026 will have a very similar format, so Asian Cup fans can get ahead of the game on how open to such collusions it is.
Malaysia are out, so that’s easy, but everything else is much more complicated.
South Korea’s draw with Jordan means that they’re not through yet, but as Malaysia have been pretty poor thus far, you’d back them to go through by beating them.
The bigger question will be how much they beat them by.
If Jordan beat Bahrain, then South Korea can only top the group by winning by more than two more than Jordan.
If, for example, Jordan won 1-0, then Korea would have to win 3-0 to finish top. It gets even more complicated on goals scored, the next tie breaker, as Jordan also lead that by one, which could become vital.
The bottom line is that South Korea need to win by as much as possible to give themselves the best chance.
Bahrain are on three points but have a negative goal difference, so they really need to at least draw to secure a place in the knockouts.
Win and they leapfrog Jordan, and can theoretically still finish top if South Korea lost or drew), but a draw would be enough as four points should see them have enough in the third place table.
Saudi Arabia are through and will play Thailand in a straight shootout to top of the group.
It would help Australia a lot of the Thais were to win, which would kick the Saudis into the dreaded bottom half of the draw, but that isn’t enormously likely.
A draw would see both advance, so expect that, because isn’t this format great.
Oman can overtake Thailand into second spot if they beat Kyrgyzstan by a few and the Thais lose, with an extra goal either way.
Kyrgyzstan would need to beat Oman to have a chance, but with a -4 goal difference, would need to win by plenty not to slip out of the bottom of the third place rankings.