It is a dream for many soccer players to play for their country and bring honor. Many countries have vied for the fabled golden trophy and win it all in the biggest sporting tournament in the world - the FIFA World Cup. It is beyond our wildest dream to even play for a single match in this tournament because we haven't qualified for the group stages and to win it all can be more difficult than winning the lottery itself.


Ever since Indonesia (then known as Dutch East Indies) played in the 1934 World Cup, the enigmatic North Korean team making wonder in England in '66 with their near-quarterfinal win against Portugal, and South Korea's renaissance in the 2002 World Cup in home soil, an Asian team never had a successful campaign and eventually winning the trophy.

Only Brazil, Italy, Argentina, Germany, Uruguay, Italy, France, Spain, and England were the countries fortunate enough to lift the FIFA World Cup Trophy. Do we have what it takes to win it all?

Unfortunately, the road for the 2014 FIFA World Cup can be a long and challenging one as we are set to begin our race to finish line with a home-and-away match against Sri Lanka. So far, the host country Brazil is already qualified for the tournament while the rest of the world, including the defending world champions Spain, have to get past the qualifying rounds.

With the entry of Australia in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the qualification can be much more difficult if you add traditional powerhouse South Korea, defending Asian champion Japan, and emerging footballing nations like Iran and future World Cup hosts Qatar.

FIFA guarantees four qualifiers for the AFC and a possible wildcard entry if that country wins a playoff match with South American fifth-placer. With that in mind, it is quite possible that Australia, Japan, and South Korea would be guaranteed a place in the final stages. The fourth qualifying spot would be disputed by Iran, Qatar, and the rest of the Asian teams. In my opinion, the best place that we can dream of is to get the wildcard spot to be able to arrange an intra-confederation playoff to determine the last ticket holder for the tournament in Brazil.

AFC Qualifying Format

Qualification begins with two sets of two-leg knock-out qualification rounds - the first held on June 29 and July 3, 2011 and the second on July 23 and 28 - reducing the number of teams in the main draw to 20. As in the 2010 format, the third stage consists of 5 groups of 4 teams (with matches held between September 2011 and February 2012) with the top 2 in each group advancing to 2 groups of 5 that will play a further group stage during 2012. The top two teams in each group qualify for the 2014 finals directly, with the two third-place teams playing-off for a chance to qualify via a further inter-confederation qualifying tie.

First Round (Home/Away)
- highest aggregate goals advances next round

Second Round (Home/Away)
- highest aggregate goals advances next round

Third Round (Group Stage/5 Groups with 4 Teams)
- top two teams in groups advances next round

Fourth Round (Group Stage/2 Groups of 5 teams)
- top two teams in groups qualify to the  FIFA World Cup

Playoff Round (Home/Away - 3rd placers of both groups)
- winner faces either the fifth-placed South American team (CONMEBOL), fourth-placed North American team (CONCACAF), or the Oceania team (OFC, most likely New Zealand)

First Challenge
Philippines "Azkals" (FIFA Rank 151) vs Sri Lanka "The Brave Reds" (FIFA Rank 173)


Both teams are in the bottom of the FIFA rankings and are looking for their first-ever qualifications in the World Cup. Sri Lanka remained relatively absent in various regional competitions considering the fact that they play cricket more than football. They failed to create an impression for the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers with a 6-0 aggregate scoreline loss to Qatar.

Despite that setback, expect the Azkals to have their hands full when they meet the Brave Reds at the 25,000-seater Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo on June 29. Then Phil Younghusband will give them some home cooking in the return match possibly at the Panaad Stadium on July 3 or 4.

In the buildup to the first round series with the Philippines, the Sri Lankans drew with higher-ranked Tajikistan in 2-all score. If the AFC Challenge Cup is the barometer for comparisons, both teams defeated Bangladesh in a 3-0 scoreline. Interestingly, Sri Lanka defeated Brunei 5-1 and Chinese Taipei 2-1 while settling for a draw with Pakistan 2-2. The Sri Lankans have a competitive professional league that the Filipinos don't enjoy so it is quite an intriguing match for a cohesive Sri Lankan team against Philippine team composed of Fil-Foreigners with overseas football experience.

Expected players to watch out for would be defender Well Don Rohana Dinesh Ruwanthilaka and new entry Dennis Maharajan. The 76-capped veteran Ruwanthilaka has scored 67 goals for his country as he is expected to take charge and find ways to score goals against the Azkal defense. Maharajan, on the other hand, plays for Edgware Town in a minor football league in England. Viyasar Thevarajah is another potent threat on the Brave Reds offense with 35 international goals for his country.

Just wondering if former Sri Lankan Ronnie Nathanielsz would be the color commentator for this all-important World Cup qualifier for the Philippines. I prefer the Brit-speak of Darren Hartmann on television though.

Predictions
The Azkals may have a hard time in the first leg but I would think that it would end in a 1-1 draw with the host taking an early lead and Phil Younghusband taking the end-game heroics with a late 2nd half goal to even things up. The Philippine team would be in a must win situation and will take a 2-0 home win at the Panaad to book their place in the second round with another home/away series with Kuwait.

Second Challenge
Kuwait "Al-Azraq" (FIFA Rank 101) vs Philippines "Azkals" (FIFA Rank 151)


Honestly, this is the biggest challenge that the Azkals have to face early in the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers because surviving Kuwait may be our ticket to the group stages and eventually in the entire qualification process. Kuwait has a relatively successful performance in football tournament these past few years. They won the recent Gulf Cup of Nations by defeating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the 2010 tournament in Yemen. They were also the winners of the 2010 West Asian Cup. With Serbian coach Goran Tufegdzic at the helm, the Blues, as they are called, are expected to make the game difficult for Michael Weiss and the rest of the team.

The team has previously qualified for the 1982 FIFA World Cup in France where they became infamous for their walkout in the game against the host country where they lost 4-1. In the recent World Cup qualifiers, Kuwait reached the third round of the AFC qualifying round but lost to Syria and UAE with a draw to Iran.

On July 23, 2011, the Al-Sadaqua Walsalam Stadium will kick off the series with the Azkals on hostile territory needing at least a draw or an away goal to ensure a good chance to move on to the next round. Unfortunately, the Azkals need to weave their magic to pull out a win in the host country's playing pitch as the Philippines remained winless on the host country's turf since a dramatic win over Vietnam in the recently concluded AFF Suzuki Cup. The rematch would be on July 28 at the Panaad Stadium or perhaps at the antiquated Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Led by midfielder Waleed Ali (73 caps), proflific goalscorer Bader Al-Mutwa (38 goals in 55 international appearances), and defensive specialists Musaed Neda (67 caps) and Yaquob Al Taher (46 caps), the Kuwaiti team is expected to frustrate the Azkals' offensive formation of the Younghusbands and Ian Araneta.

Predictions
The Kuwaitis may probably win the first leg with a comfortable margin considering the fact that they have a pretty competitive team. In this case, the Azkals need to win at home on a big margin to move on to the group stages.


Expected Results
First Round
Malaysia vs Chinese Taipei 3-0, 1-1 (MAS wins 4-1)
Bangladesh vs Pakistan 2-0, 1-0 (BAN wins 3-0)
Cambodia vs Laos 3-0, 2-0 (CAM wins 5-0)
Sri Lanka vs Philippines 1-1, 0-2 (PHI wins 3-1)
Afghanistan vs Palestine 1-2, 1-0 (PAL wins on away goals)
Vietnam vs Macau 4-0, 2-0 (VIE wins 6-0)
Nepal vs Timor-Leste 2-1, 2-1 (NEP wins 4-2)
Mongolia vs Myanmar 3-2, 2-1 (MNG wins 5-3)

Second Round
Thailand vs Palestine 2-1, 0-2 (PAL wins 3-2)
Lebanon vs Bangladesh 2-0, 1-0 (LEB wins 3-0)
China vs Cambodia 3-1, 3-0 (CHN wins 6-1)
Turkmenistan vs Indonesia 2-1, 1-0 (TRK wins 3-1)
Kuwait vs Philippines 1-0, 0-2 (PHI wins 2-1)
Oman vs Mongolia 1-0, 1-0 (OMN wins 2-0)
Saudi Arabia vs Hong Kong 5-0, 4-0 (SAU wins 9-0)
Iran vs Maldives 6-1, 5-0 (IRI wins 11-1)
Syria vs Tajikistan 2-3, 1-0 (TAJ wins on away goals)
Qatar vs Vietnam 4-1, 2-1 (QAT wins 6-2)
Iraq vs Yemen 2-0, 2-0 (IRQ wins 4-0)
Singapore vs Malaysia 1-2, 0-1 (MAS wins 3-1)
Uzbekistan vs Kyrgyzstan 1-0, 0-0 (UZB wins 1-0)
UAE vs India 1-0, 1-0 (UAE wins 2-0)
Jordan vs Nepal 2-0, 3-0 (JOR wins 5-0)

Third Round
Top Five Teams: Japan, South Korea, Australia, North Korea, Bahrain
Qualifiers: Palestine, Lebanon, China, Turkmenistan, Philippines, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Tajikistan, Qatar, Iraq, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, UAE, Jordan


Group A
Japan, Jordan, Oman, Malaysia

Group B
South Korea, China, Tajikistan, UAE

Group C
Australia, Palestine, Oman, Iraq

Group D
North Korea, Philippines, Iran, Qatar

Group E
Bahrain, Lebanon, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia

The predictions are just my own opinion as to how the outcome of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers would be like. If you want to check how it works, try playing the 2010 FIFA World Cup video game on PS3 or XBox 360. You have to understand that the Philippines does not exist on the game. Use your imagination and examine the game of football in other countries.



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{picture#https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-AgIZYN7u_Hg/VZvLmrA0hpI/AAAAAAAARt8/mscbLJ1All4/profile%2Bpic.jpg} JP Canonigo is a historian, professional blogger and copywriter, online content specialist, copywriter, video game junkie, sports fanatic and jack-of-all trades. {facebook#http://www.facebook.com/istoryadista} {twitter#http://www.twitter.com/jpthehistorian} {google#http://plus.google.com/+JPSakuragi}
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