2022 World Cup qualifying

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Seoul unsure if North Korea will air World Cup qualifier

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) South Korea said Thursday it’s unclear if North Korea will allow a live broadcast when it hosts the South’s national soccer team for a World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang next Tuesday.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said the North has been ignoring South Korean calls for discussions on broadcasting the game live and allowing South Korean spectators to attend.

“There has been no particular progress on the issues of (sending South Korean) cheering squads or providing broadcast coverage, so they won’t be easy,” since there’s only a few days left until the game, said a ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity during a background briefing to reporters.

The North in recent months has severed virtually all diplomatic activity and cooperation with the rival South amid a standstill in nuclear negotiations with the United States, while ramping up missile tests in an apparent effort to pressure Washington and Seoul.

South Korea’s Korea Football Association said last month it had been informed by the Asian Football Confederation that North Korea will host its Group H game against the South as scheduled.

The game would be the first competitive meeting between the national men’s teams in the North Korean capital, although the North hosted the South for a friendly there in 1990.

During qualification for the 2010 World Cup, North Korea chose to host games against South Korea in Shanghai, refusing to hoist the South Korean flag and play the South Korean anthem on its soil.

But South Korea’s women’s team played in Pyongyang in an Asian Cup qualifier in 2017, and North Korean TV broadcast an edited version of the game days later.

2 Koreas move toward meeting in World Cup qualifying

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Before a meeting of the Korean neighbors in the second stage of 2022 World Cup qualifying, North Korea must navigate a potentially tricky opening fixture against Lebanon in Pyongyang on Thursday.

[ MORE: Kompany speaks out on racism, Lukaku ]

Forty teams are still active on the road to Qatar but only the eight group winners and four best-placed teams progress to the next stage where Asia’s four automatic places in the World Cup are up for grabs.

South Korea, the favorite in Group H, is scheduled to visit Pyongyang on Oct. 15 in a meeting between two countries technically at war.

“We know that North Korea will be tough at home and have World Cup history but we want to get a good start,” Lebanon coach Liviu Ciobotariu said. “In a group that also has South Korea, every game is vital.”

South Korea, looking for a tenth successive World Cup appearance, sits out the first round of games this week, as do all eight top-ranked teams in Asia, and kicks off against Turkmenistan on Tuesday.

Also Thursday, Turkmenistan takes on Sri Lanka, the world’s 200th ranked team. Unlike South Korea, the South Asians are unlikely to progress to the next stage but there is still much at stake.

After the Easter Sunday suicide bombing in Colombo that killed more than 250 people, first round opponent Macau refused to travel to the island for the return leg of their first-round qualifier in June and forfeited the match. Sri Lanka is keen to show that life has returned to normal.

“Terrorists have attacked many developed countries in the past and this does not affect carrying out the affairs of any sport,” the country’s football federation declared in a statement. “Sri Lanka shall enjoy its right to host the home game in Sri Lanka and every county shall respect each other’s right to host similar games.”

Southeast Asia also has plenty to play for. The biggest crowd this week will likely be in Jakarta as Indonesia takes on rival Malaysia in front of what is expected to be 80,000 fans.

Feelings between the two neighbors can run high. According to reports in Malaysia, Football Association of Malaysia president Hamidin Mohd Amin has requested that an armored personnel carrier be on standby.

“We are not worried about the situation at the stadium itself as there are a lot of security personnel from both Malaysia and Indonesia guarding the perimeter,” Hamidin told local media. “But there is a risk of provocation and chaos en route.”

Thailand hosts Vietnam in the same group while Mongolia plays its first ever game in the second round of World Cup qualifying and faces Myanmar.

Elsewhere, 2022 World Cup host Qatar is placed in Group E and kicks off against Afghanistan. Regardless of how the Asian champion performs, it will not progress to the next stage of World Cup qualification. Qatar is involved as the path to the 2022 World Cup has been combined with qualification for the 2023 Asian Cup which will take place in China.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

North and South Korea to meet in 2022 World Cup qualifiers

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) North Korea and South Korea have been drawn together in an Asian qualifying group for soccer’s 2022 World Cup.

The Korean neighbors will play each other home and away in the five-nation Group H that includes Lebanon, Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka. Saudi Arabia and Yemen were also paired in Wednesday’s draw that involved 40 national teams and some political sensitivities. The Saudis, which played at the 2018 World Cup, are top-seeded in Group D that also has Uzbekistan, Palestine and Singapore.

Top-ranked Iran was drawn with neighboring Iraq, plus Bahrain, Hong Kong and Cambodia, in Group C.

United Arab Emirates is top-seeded in a Group G loaded with Southeast Asian derbies, involving Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Australia, which plays in the Asian soccer confederation, will play Jordan, Taiwan, Kuwait and Nepal in Group B.

World Cup host Qatar also plays as this group stage doubles up as qualifiers for the 2023 Asian Cup being played in China. Qatar will play Oman, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh in Group E.

China is in Group A with Syria, Philippines, Maldives and Guam. Japan is in Group F with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Myanmar and Mongolia.

The eight groups play from September through June.

Group winners and the four best runners-up advance to another group stage, played from September 2020 to October 2021. Those 12 teams also qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup.

Four Asian teams will qualify directly for the World Cup. A fifth nation can advance to Qatar in an intercontinental playoff round in March 2022.

New CONCACAF World Cup qualifying structure is downright outrageous

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On Wednesday, CONCACAF released its new model for qualification to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. While the number of qualifying teams stays the same – three-and-a-half – the new method is an utterly baffling concoction of wealth division and competitive nonsense that leaves teams at the bottom with almost no prayer of competing and those in the middle suddenly confused at where they fit in.

CONCACAF released a video combing through its new qualification method, stating that teams will be tiered by FIFA rankings, with those at the top gaining a significant, almost insurmountable advantage. While CONCACAF qualifying has always been segmented in the recent past, with teams like Bermuda, St. Kitts & Nevis, and Montserrat forced to slog through three rounds of preliminary qualifiers before reaching the meat and potatoes, the top teams like Mexico, the United States, and Costa Rica still had to play through a group stage before reaching the famous Hex.

Now, in the new format, the top six FIFA-ranked CONCACAF sides go straight through to the Hex, no group stage needed, with the top three earning CONCACAF’s three automatic qualifying bid. Meanwhile, the bottom 29 – twenty-nine teams! – are unable to earn an automatic bid at all, instead playing a Champions League-like group stage/knockout round combo for a spot in a playoff against the Hex’s fourth-place side for one half-bid, with the winner entering into the intercontinental playoff against a TBA federation. Breathe, you’re not the only one confused.

Right away, the North American federation has succumbed to an outrageous imbalance of power, with the infamously imperfect FIFA rankings dictating who is even eligible for a World Cup automatic bid and who is only good enough for a half-bid via a long and arduous trek through a series of lower-level matches before a playoff against the Hex’s fourth-place finisher?

CONCACAF will argue it is actually doing the lower-tiered teams a favor, giving one of them a better opportunity to reach a World Cup as they are separated from the top teams and able to compete against themselves for the chance at a spot, but in reality, the federation is creating a gargantuan rift that could see an exhausted an ill-equipped team set up for an intercontinental slaughter. While the federation wished to avoid having three-quarters of the teams eliminated two years out from the big dance – a legitimate problem – this new format hardly solves that issue, seeing the bottom-tier group stage concluding by the fall of 2020, with 21 teams eliminated at that point. The knockout stage will then eliminate another four teams in March 2021, and another two in June. For the top teams, they will play six fewer competitive games with the straight shot into the Hex, instead leaving them with just five international windows of Hexagonal games (September, October, and November of 2020 plus March and September of 2021) to savor.

The federation is also robbed of its more intriguing matchups, with the top teams now unable to play the likes of Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala, Haiti, or St. Vincent & the Grenadines, all who made the group stage last qualifying cycle and got a chance to pit themselves against the best. Trinidad & Tobago surprised and reached the Hex, while Guatemala and Canada came close in fun matchups that mattered.

In addition, the system creates a confusing dilemma for those teams on the cusp of the Hex. Is it better for a team on the edge like El Salvador, Panama, or Canada to be in the top-tier round robin with a shot at an automatic bid should they surprise over the course of 10 matches? Remember, the bottom two teams in the Hex are fully eliminated. Or is it better to be in the lower-tier creation against theoretically lesser opponents, only able to earn the half-bid but progressing as the favored side for much of the qualifying cycle? If they prefer the latter, would teams throw games between now and then to drop in the rankings and not risk a spot in the Hex?

While there are understandable problems the federation looked to solve with a new qualification format, their creation instead raises far more questions than it solves, and creating a significant power division using an imperfect ranking system spells disaster before the cycle even gets under way. While the old system had its drawbacks, this is unquestionably a step back for the federation that sees competitive balance further eroded instead of progress forward.

What’s next for the USMNT?

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We’ll be waiting for September for the next USMNT on-field action and there are plenty of things worth monitoring when it comes to the progress of Gregg Berhalter’s men even before the next ball is struck by men in red, white and blue.

The four brightest American talents in Europe all have new coaches, as Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic (Frank Lampard), Schalke’s Weston McKennie (David Wagner), RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams (Julian Nagelsmann), and Wolfsburg’s John Brooks (Oliver Glasner) aim to impress their new bosses.

There is uncertainty for Matt Miazga, Tyler Boyd, and Zack Steffen as well. The first two don’t know whether they’ll be with their current clubs, Chelsea and Vitória de Guimarães, by August or on loan, while Steffen has to win the Fortuna Dusseldorf goalkeeper job in his return to Europe on loan from Manchester City.

Throw in Josh Sargent’s hope of winning first team time at Werder Bremen and Tim Weah’s chance to impress new owners at Lille, and this August will have something to say about the fate of the USMNT heading into September’s break. That’s all without mentioning Newcastle United’s DeAndre Yedlin also getting a new manager.

From a calendar standpoint, what’s actually next is a pair of friendlies, expected to see Mexico and Uruguay visit the American shores in early September.

The next two international breaks hold CONCACAF Nations League matches home and away against Canada and Cuba, and the Yanks will be heavily favored to advance to the semifinals in March 2020 (If Gregg Berhalter’s men do finish behind the Canucks, well, see ya later pal).

After that, it’ll be World Cup qualifying (though we’re still waiting on the format with which CONCACAF will choose its three automatic qualifiers and one inter-confederation playoff participant for the winter 2022 tournament in Qatar).

Winter!

Anyway, those Nations League matches won’t see the Yanks at full strength, at least in theory. October sees the U.S. U-23 side’s chance to qualify for and play in the Olympics for the first time since 2008.

Jason Kreis will hope to do what Andreas Herzog and Caleb Porter could not, and lead the U-23s to the Olympics.

It’s a valuable experience for a generation of players, and can be a tremendous boost for a nation which finally has its U-20 program in order and thriving at the U-20 World Cup.