At halfway mark of Asian qualifiers, who's on course for the World Cup and who's on their way out? – ESPN

With the third round of Asian qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup now at its halfway stage, plenty has transpired in the race to reach Qatar 2022 with much still to play for.
With five matches remaining, every team can still mathematically qualify but some are virtually out of the equation while others remain firmly on track.
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Ahead of Tuesday’s Match Day 6, we take a closer look at Asia’s World Cup qualification picture.
Group A
Frontrunners: Iran, South Korea
Only the top two sides in each group are guaranteed a berth at next year’s World Cup and at the moment, that duo looks to be Iran and South Korea in Group A.
With both yet to taste defeat, Iran lead the way on 13 points and the South Koreans are two behind with clear daylight between them and the chasing pack, as third-placed Lebanon only have five points to their names.
Given they are two of the continent’s heavyweights, and considering they have both featured at the past two World Cups, their dominance is hardly a surprise and they should comfortably advance barring collapses of unimaginable proportions.
In with a chance: Lebanon, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Syria
Finishing inside the top two may already be a bridge too far for Group A’s four other contenders but, given the third-place team advances into a playoff, all is not lost yet.
With only three points separating Lebanon from bottom side Syria, each of these teams will be optimistic in their prospects provided they can finish the campaign strongly.
With four draws and just a loss in their five matches so far, Iraq are perhaps just one or two tweaks away from clicking into gear and could be a good bet for third spot.
As good as eliminated: None
Considering the narrow margin separating the bottom four teams, none of them are really out of the reckoning for the playoff berth.
Group B
Frontrunners: Saudi Arabia
Having racked up four wins and a draw in their opening five qualifiers, Saudi Arabia currently sit top of Group B and that may come as a surprise to some given the likes of Japan and Australia were the early favourites.
But the Green Falcons are where they are on merit and, having claimed an impressive 1-0 win over Japan in October, also passed their most recent test by holding the Socceroos to a 0-0 draw on Thursday.
They will have to face both these sides again on the run home but can be pleased with their displays so far.
In with a chance: Australia, Japan, Oman
Until their past two outings — a 2-1 loss to Japan and a 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia — Australia were also looking in pretty good shape, although they remain in with an excellent chance on ten points.
A serious knee injury to star defender Harry Souttar will however be a blow ahead of Tuesday’s game against China PR.
Meanwhile, a point behind the Socceroos, Japan are finally getting some results on the board after a slow start but are far from at the their best, and are yet to show the dominance expected of the Samurai Blue.
In fourth place is Oman, who stunned the Japanese on Match Day 1 and currently have seven points to their tally. Third spot and a playoff berth might be the most realistic goal for Oman although that could change if they can pull off another upset against the Samurai Blue on Tuesday.
As good as eliminated: China PR, Vietnam
With no points from the five matches, Vietnam are effectively out of the running. Then again, just getting to this stage for the first time ever was already an achievement in itself.
The Vietnamese have been competitive in almost all their outings, which have included single-goal defeats to Australia and Japan, and should be aiming to pick up a win or two in the second half of the campaign.
And while China PR are in a relatively stronger position on four points, none of their performances so far suggest they will have what it takes to claw their way back into Group B’s top three.


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