Palestine to face Afghanistan in Round 1, Thailand in Round 2
Seedings, draws, pots.... Ugh! The entire thing is a pretty nervy affair but Palestine managed to come through relatively unscathed. Afghanistan will be our first opposition on June 28th and July 3rd (I believe we are hosting the return leg). We've never played Afghanistan but this matchup provides us with the advantage of playing the away leg at a neutral site.
Afghanistan haven't set the continent alight since their re-entering the footballing world in 2002. That said, they have experienced an uptick in fortune over the past couple of months. Narrowly losing a friendly to Tajikstan 1-0 and sweeping aside Bhutan 5-0 on aggregate in their Preliminary AFC Challenge Cup Qualifier. Their group games against Korea DPR, Sri Lanka, and Nepal should provide us with clues as to how good this team is.
I don't think we should get cocky or overconfident, drawing Malaysia or Vietnam would have been trickier but we have to respect the opponent. I love our team and we're definitely in the ascendency but on paper this team hadn't won in 59 months before last week.
As for Thailand, all I can say for them at this point is that they aren't Iran, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia. That in itself is a relief, but it doesn't mean we should start celebrating. Their recent history doesn't do them justice. This is a team that is better funded than us and has a Premiership legend- Bryan Robson coaching them. Advancing will hinge on getting a result in Bangkok, the Thais will be the first to tell you that their record in the Middle East is woeful.
More on this topic to follow...